Written by Hussein Mohamed and Anemona Hartocollis
A suicide bomber walked into the mayor’s office in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, during a high-level security meeting Wednesday and detonated explosives, seriously injuring the mayor and killing at least six people, according to local authorities.
The mayor, Abdirahman Omar Osman, was in critical condition with head and stomach injuries, officials said.
James Swan, an American diplomat who is the United Nations’ special representative for Somalia, had visited the mayor’s office earlier Wednesday but left before the attack, authorities said.
Al-Shabab, an Islamist extremist group with links to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility and said that Swan was the intended target, according to Radio Andalus, the group’s radio station. Al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed government, often targets government offices and other high-profile places in Somalia’s capital.
It was not clear how the attacker was permitted to enter the room and detonate explosives. People familiar with the mayor’s office, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation, said that it was closely guarded and that the bomber must have been familiar with the guards in order to enter.
At least six people, including two district commissioners, were killed in the attack, and five people besides the mayor were injured, said Mohamed Abdi Hayir, Somalia’s minister of information, at a news conference.
The attack came just 11 days after 26 people were killed in a suicide car bombing and gun attack on a hotel in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo. That attack killed a former politician and a prominent Somali-Canadian television journalist, Hodan Nalayeh, who had returned to the country of her birth to tell positive stories and was mourned as a hero.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the hotel attack, which also killed three Kenyans, three Tanzanians and a Briton. The group, which has killed thousands across East Africa, has accused Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, of being an apostate and an American “puppet.”
The Somalia-based group was driven from Mogadishu years ago but still operates in some regions and is a frequent target of U.S. airstrikes.
Swan, the U.N. envoy, condemned the attack in a statement, saying it not only reflected “a violent disregard for the sanctity of human life, but also targets Somalis working to improve the lives of their fellow Somalis.”