MOGADISHU: A suicide bomber walked into the office of Mogadishu’s mayor and detonated explosives strapped to his waist, killing six people and badly wounding the mayor, Somali police said Wednesday.
The attack occurred shortly after the new United Nations envoy to Somalia, James Swan, had paid the mayor a “courtesy call” and left the compound, an official at the mayor’s office. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The UN mission in Somalia in a tweet before the bombing posted photos of the smiling mayor and new envoy, saying Swan had received an overview of the “challenges” in the region.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab extremist group claimed responsibility. It often targets government buildings such as the presidential palace and other high-profile parts of Mogadishu with bombings.
"We conducted a successful operation in Mogadishu this afternoon. The target was the newly appointed U.N. envoy to Somalia and other senior enemy members. Some of them were eliminated, others wounded," Al-Shabab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab said in a statement.
The mayor, Abdirahman Omar Osman, and his deputy were rushed to a hospital with critical wounds and two district commissioners were among the dead, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein.
It was not clear how the bomber managed to enter the mayor’s office during a security meeting. Some security officials said the attacker might have coordinated with corrupt officials, offering them bribes for access.
The security officials said Wednesday’s attack appeared to be a shift in tactics, as the extremists in the past had rarely managed to infiltrate heavily fortified government buildings without first detonating one or more vehicle bombs.
The Somalia-based Al-Shabab was chased out of Mogadishu years ago but still controls parts of the Horn of Africa nation’s south and central regions and is a frequent target of US airstrikes.
"A suicide bomber walked into the meeting hall and blew up himself," said Mohamed Abdullahi, a relative of one of the victims, told Reuters. The area was filled with ambulances after the blast, shopkeeper Mohamed Osman said.
The Horn of Africa country has been riven by conflict since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.