Islamic insurgents posing as UN personnel detonated suicide car bombs in an African Union (AU) peacekeeping base in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
The attack came as revenge for a US commando raid that killed an al-Qaida operative.
Witnesses and officials said the bombings yesterday, and a counter-strike from the AU base, killed at least 16 people, including four bombers, and wounded dozens.
An hour after the bomb attack missiles were fired from the peacekeepers’ airport base, exploding in insurgent-controlled areas of the capital.
Ali Muse of the Mogadishu ambulance service said the missiles killed seven people and wounded 16.
The suicide bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaida that can be traced to training from militants like the operative killed this week by helicopter-borne US special forces, said Ted Dagne, a Washington-based Africa specialist.
Suicide attacks were virtually unknown in Somalia before 2007, even though the nation has been wracked by war for almost two decades.
“Al Qaida provided the training as well as the brainwashing,” Mr Dagne told the Associated Press. “Never in Somali culture, never during 19 years of war, was suicide bombing used as a tool. This is new.”
There have been about a dozen suicide bombings since the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab stepped up its attacks against the Western-backed backed government in 2007.
Al-Shabab controls much of Somalia and operates openly in the capital, confining the government and peacekeepers to a few blocks of the city.
The suicide bombers arrived at the airport in UN cars packed with explosives and drove onto the main base of the AU peacekeepers before setting off two huge blasts that shattered windows over a wide area and shrouded the sky in black smoke.
An airport security officer said soldiers guarding the base waved in the trucks because they were UN vehicles. Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke confirmed the cars had been stolen.
“When the cars entered one of them sped toward a petrol depot and exploded,” the security officer said. “The other one exploded in a nearby area.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at least 30 wounded personnel were being evacuated from the country. “I condemn this attack – this terrorist attack – in the strongest possible terms,” he said.