5 car bombings kill 22 in northern Somalia

Insurgents seen expanding reach

By Edmund Sanders
Los Angeles Times / October 30, 2008
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NAIROBI - A string of suicide bombings that killed 22 people in northern Somalia yesterday heightened fears that Islamic insurgents are becoming more sophisticated and ambitious, perhaps with help from foreign terrorists.

Five car bombings struck targets in two of Somalia's major northern cities, officials said.

In Hargeysa, capital of the breakaway region of Somaliland, truck bombs struck the presidential palace, the Ethiopian Consulate and a United Nations compound, killing 21 people, including a senior presidential aide. An additional 26 were wounded, hospital officials said.

"This is the most horrific event I've ever seen in Somaliland," said a spokesman for the breakaway government, Said Adani Moge, who escaped from the palace unharmed.

In the Puntland region, bombs exploded just minutes apart at two local government intelligence compounds in the city of Bosasso, according to Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, a senior government adviser.

One woman was killed and seven other people were injured, he said.

The strikes were widely believed to have been carried out by Islamic militants and appeared to have been timed to upstage a political gathering of Somalia's leaders here that ended yesterday.

"It's a clear sign that they wanted to show up the conference," said Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at International Crisis Group, a think tank. "They wanted to show that they are the still the power on the ground."

No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicions immediately fell on an insurgent group known as Shabab, which has been fighting a guerrilla war against Somalia's transitional government and the Ethiopian troops supporting it.

In recent months, Islamic fighters have seized several strategic areas of southern Somalia, including the port city of Kismayo. Shabab's growing influence around the city of Baidoa, home of Somalia's interim parliament, has led some lawmakers to urge relocating the body to Nairobi for security.

Wednesday's bomb blasts, apparently synchronized to hit during the morning hours, were unusual because of their scale and location. Northern Somalia has been relatively peaceful compared with the restive south. Experts said the attacks might signal that insurgent groups are expanding their reach to new areas and are using more sophisticated techniques.

"If this was Shabab, it shows that they are improving and have become a formidable force, perhaps with logistical support from outside jihadis."

Shabab leaders, who have vowed to overthrow Somalia's government and drive out Ethiopian troops, have voiced their determination in recent months to forge closer ties with Al Qaeda.

US officials, who accuse Shabab of having links to the terrorist group, launched an airstrike earlier this year that killed one of Shabab's top leaders.

Shabab representatives could not be reached for comment.

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