Four foreign security staff have died in the first major assault on the United Nations in Somalia in years.
According to the Somali government, local guards and insurgent fighters were also among those killed in Wednesday’s attack. “So far we have confirmed four UNDP foreign staff who were responsible for security, four Somali guards and seven militants,” Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled told reporters. Vuyelwa Qinga, spokeswoman for the South African state weapons firm Denel, says two of their staff members were also killed during the attack, and an ambulance service official confirmed his crew had carried away seven dead civilians, bringing the death toll to 22.
The assault started when a car bomb exploded outside the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) base in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Rebel gunmen then fought off security guards, forcing their way into the compound.
Al-Shabaab claim responsibility
The al Qaeda group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack. Militants have launched several guerilla-style attacks from rural bases since being driven out of Mogadishu by AU and Somali government forces in 2011. However, this was their first major assault on a UN compound.
One UN official who closely follows Somalia accused some Western nations of playing down the dangers posed by al Shabaab. “This is part of the consequence of over-optimism in some Western nations that has overshadowed the need to look at deeper problems before rolling out any kind of UN mission.”
Al Shabaab appeared to share a similar opinion. “Inside the compound are several clueless foreigners who were lulled into a false sense of security by a strong disinformation campaign,” they tweeted (@HSMPRESS1) before apparently losing the battle.
They went on to accuse the UN of pandering to US interests. “The U.N., a merchant of death and a satanic force of evil, has a long, inglorious record of spreading nothing but poverty, dependency and disbelief,” al Shabaab tweeted.
The UNDP is now said to be secure again after security forces, backed by the African Union force AMISOM, sent soldiers and armoured vehicles to a gun battle that witnesses claimed lasted more than 90 minutes. Staff in a neighbouring building were apparently in lockdown during the attack and bystanders reported several smaller explosions during the gun battle.
The offensive seemed to be a copycat of the strike on the law courts in Mogadishu in April during which militant gunmen fought a battle with security forced before detonating suicide vests. Guled confirmed that some of the attackers blew themselves up during Wednesday’s assault.
A “despicable attack”
During a telephone call to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told he was “outraged by the despicable attack”. The Somali government also condemned the attack, offering their “deepest sympathy to all victims.” Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid tweeted,“Today all Somalia stands shoulder to shoulder with UNSOM.”
The attack will cause possible setbacks for the recent security gains, which have enabled the gradual return of foreign aid workers and diplomats to the region. Nicholas Kay, the top UN official in Somalia, said that the United Nations would continue with its mission in Mogadishu. “The UN is here to help and we are here to stay,” he affirmed.