By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s al Shabaab stormed a government building on Saturday, detonating a suicide car bomb in the heart of the capital Mogadishu with at least nine people, including an assistant minister, killed during an ensuing gun battle.
The large explosion shook the centre of Mogadishu and a large plume of smoke rose above the scene of the blast, a building that houses Somalia’s ministries of labour and works.
It was the latest bombing claimed by Al Shabaab, an Islamist group which is fighting to establish its own rule in Somalia, based on a strict interpretation of sharia law.
“So far seven people died including an assistant minister who is also an MP,” Major Mohamed Hussein, a police officer told Reuters, identifying the minister as Saqar Ibrahim Abdala, assistant labour minister.
Hussein said two of the al Shabaab fighters who entered the building after an initial suicide car bomb had been killed in a firefight and that much of the building had been secured.
“We believe there are other militants hiding themselves,” he said, adding that 20 people had been injured in the assault.
Dr. Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Amin Ambulance Service told Reuters some people were still trapped inside the building and that it was not possible to rescue them because of an ongoing gun battle.
Al Shabaab said one of its fighters had rammed the ministry building with a suicide car bomb, allowing others to enter.
“We are inside the building and (the) fighting goes on. We shall give details later,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman told Reuters.
Al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s western backed central government, was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.
But it remains a threat, with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union mandated peacekeeping force AMISOM that helps defend Somalia’s central government.
(Additional reporting Feisal Omar; writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)