Islamist suicide bombers attacked the hotel where Somalia’s President was giving a news conference on Wednesday, killing eight people and sending reporters diving for cover.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud – just two days into his job – and the visiting Kenyan foreign minister were unhurt in the attack claimed by Somalia’s al-Shabab rebels.
The first explosion struck shortly after 2 p.m. as Kenya’s Sam Ongeri started to speak. Volleys of gunshots erupted as local and foreign journalists ducked behind pillars, velvet red chairs and cameras.
Mr. Mohamud, who had been staying at the hotel since being elected on Monday, was unfazed and Mr. Ongeri continued his speech, saying: “I believe this is the price of peace.”
Seven and a half minutes later, a second explosion erupted.
The attacks – on the newly built Jazeera Palace hotel, near the airport and one of the securest places in Mogadishu – underscore the security challenges facing Mr. Mohamud, whose election was hailed by many as a way to end 20 years of violent anarchy.
“We were behind the Mogadishu hotel blasts. It was a well-planned mujahedeen operation,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al-Shabab’s military operations, told Reuters.
A journalist accompanying Mr. Ongeri said she had seen “pieces of meat flying all over the place” after the first blast.
“Then I saw a second guy shooting as he stormed toward the hotel,” said Jamila Mohammed, who was outside the hotel when the assailants struck.
A Reuters witness said the severed leg of one of the suicide bombers wearing a white sneaker could be seen just outside the hotel’s gate where African Union armoured vehicles were parked, at least one of which was spattered with blood.
Mr. Mohamud’s election by Somali lawmakers on Monday was hailed by his supporters as a vote for change in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country that has lacked effective central government since 1991.
Although he is relatively new to politics, the former academic faces old problems: a stubborn Islamist insurgency, acrimonious clan politics, rampant corruption and maritime piracy.
“First and foremost, we will address the security issue here in Somalia. … Our priority number one, our priority number two and our priority number three is security,” Mr. Mohamud said moments after the blasts to cheers in the audience.
The AU peacekeeping force, AMISOM, said a third attacker was shot dead as he attempted to scale the hotel’s courtyard.
“Al-Shabab are very well-organized. Look at their timing. These people, they are everywhere,” said Mohamed Maie, a Foreign Ministry official, sitting in the lobby after the attack.
“When the hope and aspirations came, that’s the time they wanted to destroy hope. You don’t relax just because some people voted for a positive sign, it doesn’t mean everything is honey.”