Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shaabab militants on Tuesday blasted their way into the higher education ministry with a car bomb before storming the building, killing at least 17 people.
The attack came almost two weeks after the militants claimed responsibility for the horror massacre of almost 150 people at Garissa university following a day-long siege on April 2.
The extremist threat to Africa was highlighted by the worldwide remembrance of the abductions by Nigeria militant group Boko Haram of nearly 300 girls last year.
Police and witnesses said the car bomb caused a huge explosion which allowed the gunmen to force their way into the fortified building.
“One policeman and eight civilians were killed in the attack, and a dozen others were wounded including a senior education ministry official,” police officer Mohamed Dahir said.
Police regained control of the building after around an hour-long attack, which began when “a car loaded with explosives rammed the gate,” Dahir added.
Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab claimed responsiblity, boasting that their gunmen had been in “full in control” of the ministry, as well as entering a neighbouring building housing the oil ministry.
Seven gunmen were killed, police later said.
The rebels stage regular attacks in the capital as part of their fight against the country’s internationally-backed government and African Union forces (Amisom) supporting it.
A car bombing to force entry into fortified buildings followed by an armed raid has become a trademark tactic of the hardline Islamists.
Somalia has been unstable since the collapse of Siad Barre’s hardline regime in 1991, and the country’s new government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Shabaab fighters have carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries, notably Kenya and Uganda, in response to their participation in the AU force.
The attack on the Garissa university was the group’s bloodiest massacre and Kenya’s worst since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi.
The Shabaab later warned of a “long, gruesome war” unless Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia, as well as warning the government in Mogadishu it would continue to attack them on home soil.
Despite losing significant territory in recent months the Shabaab group, whose name means “youth” in Arabic, still manages to launch frequent attacks as part of its fight to overthrow the government.
Analysts fear the group’s resurgence may attract new recruits.
In Kenya, the massacre fallout continued as rights groups condemned Tuesday the suspension of two key Muslim civil society organisations for suspected links to the militants, saying it will damage efforts to counter extremism.
Kenyan authorities last week put HAKI Africa and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), two Mombasa-based civil society groups, on a list of 85 individuals and organisations accused of supporting the Islamists.
The list also froze key money transfer companies vital for impoverished Somalia.
But rights groups said both blacklisted bodies were key organisations trying to combat extremism, not foment it.
“Counter-terrorism can only succeed if both civil society and the government work together,” the group of 15 organisations said in a statement.
It pointed out that HAKI Africa’s chief Hussein Khalid spoke in February in Washington to the US Congress on efforts to counter extremism.
“The Kenya human rights community is extremely concerned,” said Atsango Chesoni, from the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
“While we support the government’s efforts to also counter violent extremism… we consider the listing of MUHURI and HAKI Africa to be an unthinking reaction to intimidate not only the two organisations, but all civil society,” the statement added.
The statement was also signed by international organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.. .