16 killed in Somalia blasts near presidential palace

The checkpoint is also about 400 meters away from the president’s residence. (File/AP)
Updated 22 December 2018
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16 killed in Somalia blasts near presidential palace

  • The explosion took place near the presidential palace
  • Two explosions were reported

MOGADISHU: At least 16 people were killed and 20 wounded in a car bomb attack claimed by Al-Shabab close to the president’s residence in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said on Saturday.

Police had earlier said the first car bomb at the checkpoint killed 13, mostly soldiers and that the death toll was likely to rise.

“The security forces have cordoned off the area and an investigation is ongoing,” local police spokesman Ibrahim Mohamed said.

Among those killed were a journalist, two security personnel and a driver working for local station Universal TV, whose car was passing the checkpoint at which the first blast went off, another reporter working for the station said.

Somalia’s London-based Universal TV said three of its staff were among the fatalities, naming one as Somali and British dual national Awil Dahir.

The first explosion happened at a checkpoint outside the national theater, some 500 meters from the palace. The second blast, more powerful according to witnesses, came minutes later at a nearby crossroads. “The second blast was very big,” Idil Hassan, who witnessed it, told AFP.

“I saw the dead bodies of several people, including members of the security forces.”

“My colleague Awil Dahir Salad died in the blast together with the driver and two security guards. They were killed by the first blast as they drove. May Allah rest their souls,” journalist Abdiasis Ibrahim who also works for Universal TV, told Reuters. Another witness, Osman Fahiye, said a leading official from Banadir, a region which surrounds Mogadishu, was hurt in the second blast.

“He was lightly wounded but several of his security guards were killed in the blast,” said Fahiye.

Al-Shabab, in comments broadcast on its Radio Andalus, claimed responsibility for both blasts and said the second was also a car bomb.

The group’s “martyrdom operation” had targeted “a security checkpoint that used to protect the presidential palace,” an Al-Shabab statement said. Ahmed Abdi, another police officer, said the car bomb exploded at a checkpoint some 400 meters from the president’s residence.

Al-Shabab carries out frequent attacks in Mogadishu. Its members want to dislodge the government and impose its rule.

The group was forced from Mogadishu in 2011 and has lost many of its strongholds but maintains a foothold in some regions. It has killed thousands of Somalis and hundreds of civilians across East Africa in a decade-long insurgency. 

 But it retains control of large rural swathes of the country and continues to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities. The group has vowed to topple the internationally backed government. 

The worst carnage to date in Somalia occurred on Oct. 14 last year when 512 people were killed in Hodan, a busy commercial district in the capital.

Nobody claimed responsibility but the authorities believe Al-Shabab were behind it.


Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

Updated 16 January 2019
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Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

  • Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO
  • Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete”

WASHINGTON: Fresh doubts surfaced Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO, after he was reported to have discussed a desire to pull out of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO — the historic alliance that forms the backbone of the West’s post-World War II security order — and that he wanted to withdraw, The New York Times reported.
He has often blasted members of the 29-nation partnership for not paying more into their national defense budgets.
Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a tumultuous summit in July, he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US remains “100 percent” committed to NATO.
At the summit the president said the US “commitment to NATO is very strong” and “tremendous progress has been made” by allies and partners.
“That has not changed,” Pahon said in a statement.
“NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic security.”
In Brussels, a NATO official also highlighted Trump’s comments from the July summit.
“The United States is strongly committed to NATO and to transatlantic security,” the official told AFP.
“The US has significantly boosted its commitment to the defense of Europe, including with increased troop commitments.”
Turning 70 this year, NATO has underpinned Western security in Europe for decades, first countering the Soviet Union and then Russian expansionism.
A US withdrawal from NATO would be a strategic gift of epic proportions to Russia, which is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump win.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was a staunch proponent of NATO and repeatedly visited its Brussels headquarters, where he sought to reassure allies about America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Mattis quit last month, and observers see a shrinking coterie of advisers around Trump willing to push back against him.
The US Congress, including Trump’s own Republican Party, would likely push back against any effort to withdraw from NATO.
The only country to have ever invoke Article 5, NATO’s collective defense principle, was America following the September 11, 2001 attacks.