By Gabe Joselow
Three suicide bombers attacked a hotel Wednesday in downtown Mogadishu where newly-elected Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was meeting with a delegation from the Kenyan foreign ministry. At least seven people were killed, including the bombers and at least one African Union soldier.
Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Ongeri was reading a letter of congratulations from the Kenyan president, when the first bomber struck.
After the blast, a second suicide bomber tried to rush through the gate of the Jazeera Palace hotel, but African Union officials say he was shot and killed by AU forces before he could detonate his explosives.
Inside, on the top floor of the hotel, President Mohamud calmly continued his address to the Kenyan delegation and assembled members of the media.
“Things like what’s happening now outside will continue for some time, but I’m sure and I’m confident it’s the last things that’s taking place here in Somalia,” he said. “We have been hearing such events frequently, but this is a special case. We didn’t hear it for the last couple of months even.”
Minutes later, another bomber struck on the opposite side of the hotel, which is just down the street from the Mogadishu airport and the African Union and United Nations compounds in the capital.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The al-Qaida-linked militants controlled most of Mogadishu for a few years until the AU force, known as AMISOM, pushed the militants out of capital city just over a year ago.
Since then, the group has changed tactics, resorting to hit-and-run guerilla attacks, including suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices.
Mohamud said security remains the top challenge for his administration.
“We are striving to get a Somalia that is peaceful within and peaceful with its neighbors and the rest of the world,” the president said. “Security is our main target, our priority number one, our priority number two and priority number three is security.”
Mohamud, an academic and political moderate, was elected president Monday in an unexpected landslide victory over the incumbent president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
The election was part of U.N. plan to create an effective central government in Somalia, after two decades of chaos and fighting.