(by Mohamed Olad Hassan, WashingtonTimes.com) MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A suicide bomber disguised in women’s clothing detonated his explosives during a graduation ceremony at an upscale hotel Thursday, killing at least 22 people, including three Cabinet ministers and two journalists.
The attack raised new questions about the ability of Somalia’s weak government to control even the small area of the capital that it holds. African troops protecting the government wage near daily battles with Islamic militants who control much of central and southern Somalia.
More than three dozen students had gathered to receive their diplomas at the ceremony at the Shamow Hotel, which sits in the small patch of Mogadishu that is held by Somalia’s government.
“What happened today is a national disaster,” said Somali Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle, who confirmed that the ministers for education, higher education and health were killed in the blast. The ministers for sports and tourism were among the 46 wounded, he said.
Twenty-two people were killed, along with the suicide bomber, Mr. Gelle said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell upon the militant group al-Shabab, which has ties to al Qaeda and controls much of the country.
“A man who disguised himself as a woman, complete with a veil and a female’s shoes, is behind the explosion,” Mr. Gelle said. “We even have his picture.”
Two journalists also were killed, and two were wounded. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television said its Somali cameraman, Hassan Zubeir, died. A second Somali reporter working for a local media outlet also died, said Bashir Khalif, a reporter for the Somali government’s radio service.
Several hundred people had gathered inside a decorated ballroom in the Shamow Hotel to celebrate the graduations of the medical, computer science and engineering students from Benadir University. The school was established in 2002 by a group of Somali doctors who wanted to promote higher education in a country where physicians have become the victims of the seemingly endless violence.
The attack drew global condemnation.
“Such an inhumane and cowardly act aimed at stalling the peace process will not deter the resolve and determination of the African Union to support the people of Somalia in their quest for peace and reconciliation,” said a statement from the African Union.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on each other. A moderate Islamist was elected president in January in hopes that he could unite the country’s feuding factions, but the violence has continued unabated.
Associated Press. Reprinted from the Washington Times. For educational purposes only. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. The first paragraph of a news article generally answers the questions who, what, where and when. Answer those questions for this article.
2. The remainder of a news article answers the questions why and/or how. The terrorist group al-Shabab is believed to be responsible for the attack. Why (for what reason) do you think they launched this particular attack on graduating students?
3. How many people were killed? Who were they?
4. How was the suicide bomber able to get so close to the front of the graduation ceremony?
5. Why was Benadir University founded in 2002?
6. Somalia is a country of violence and anarchy. Read the “Background” below for more information on its government. Al Shabab controls many parts of the country and has ties to al Qaeda. Do you think the international community should take action against this Islamic terrorist safe haven? Explain your answer.
- In 2004, after protracted talks in Kenya, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which later appointed a president.
- The fledgling administration, the 14th attempt to establish a government since 1991, has faced a formidable task in bringing reconciliation to a country divided into clan fiefdoms.
- Its authority was further compromised in 2006 by the rise of Islamists who gained control of much of the south, including the capital, after their militias kicked out the warlords who had ruled the roost for 15 years.
- With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.
- Islamist insurgents – including the Al-Shabab group, which the US accuses of links to al-Qaeda – fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.
- Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, fighters from the Al-Shabab militia took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government.
- Somalia’s parliament met in neighbouring Djibouti in late January and swore in 149 new members from the main opposition movement, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
- The parliament also extended the mandate of the transitional federal government for another two years, and installed moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad as the new president.
- However, the government’s military position weakened further, and in May 2009, Al-Shabab and another radical militia launched an attack on Mogadishu, prompting President Ahmad to appeal for help from abroad.
- The long-standing absence of authority in the country has led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and has prompted Nato to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation.
- After the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, the north-west part of Somalia unilaterally declared itself the independent Republic of Somaliland. The territory, whose independence is not recognised by international bodies, has enjoyed relative stability. (from news.bbc.co.uk)
Read an eyewitness account of the attack at wsj.com.
For a map of Africa and Somalia, go to worldatlas.com.
For information on the Somali terrorist group al Shabab, go to cfr.org/publication/18650/alshabaab.html.
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.