Bomb Attacks Hit UN offices, Ethiopian consular

October 29, 2008 – By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN — Suicide attacks rocked government security posts, United Nations offices and an Ethiopian consular unit in two regions of northern Somalia on Wednesday, killing or wounding dozens of people, according to officials and witnesses. Five suicide car bomb attackers struck within fifteen minutes in Hargeisa, the capital of breakaway Somaliland, and in Bosasso, in Puntland, said Faisal Hayle, a security official in Mogadishu for the transitional government of Somalia.

Several buildings were leveled by the attacks. According to Mr. Faisal, the bombers struck at around 10:30 a.m., attacking the government security offices in both Bosasso and Hargeisa, as well as an Ethiopian consulate office and a United Nations office in Hargeisa.

Reuters quoted witnesses as saying the death toll from the two attacks totalled 28, at least 20 of them at the Ethiopian office in Hargeisa.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Mr. Faisal blamed a militant Islamic group called the Shabab, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

The Shabab has been waging a relentless war against Somalia’s weak transitional government, but most of its attacks have been confined to south-central Somalia. Hargeisa, in northern Somalia, had been considered an oasis of peace and stability.

The Somaliland government has been credited with setting up a small but functioning democracy, and providing a degree of peace and safety to more than a million people.

Several United Nations agencies are based in Hargeisa.

Neighboring Puntland is a semi-autonomous area known increasingly as a center of piracy and kidnapping.

In a statement on Wednesday, the United Nations Development Program said a suicide bomber had entered its compound in Hargeisa and there were known casualties and deaths but the agency gave no precise figures.

The attack may have been timed to coincide with a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, between Somalia’s transitional leaders and foreign forces supporting them. Militant Islamic groups were not invited to the talks and organizations such as the Shabab have shunned the discussions. The militant group says it wants to turn Somalia into an Islamic state and has demanded the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

Ethiopian forces have been backing Somalia’s transitional government and have been one of the targets of previous suicide attacks claimed by the Shabab. Last year, there were several suicide attacks on Ethiopian-Somali government army bases, but a coordinated assault with five suicide attacks in a single day was unprecedented.

Witnesses in Hargeisa said that many of the buildings that had been hit were badly damaged and dozens of people had been killed or wounded.

In the port of Bosasso, two huge blasts rocked the city as suicide bombers attacked two offices of the Puntland security forces at around 10:20 a.m., killing a woman cleaner and injuring six soldiers, residents and officials said.

At a news conference after the attacks, the Puntland president, Mohamoud Mose Hersi, blamed the bombings on terrorists seeking to jeopardize Puntland’s security.

“It was two shocking blasts that we haven’t seen before,” he said, accusing outsiders of carrying out the attacks. “We know their faces and they are not Puntlanders.” The first bomb exploded at a security service intelligence office close to the presidential palace in Puntland, according to residents and officials. Two minutes later, another explosion hit the agency’s office in the Laanta Hawada neighborhood, killing one intelligence officer and injuring six.

Mohamoud Awale, a resident of Bosasso, said he saw a speeding car drive into one of the offices. “I was really very shocked, because I haven’t witnessed such a catastrophic event.” Mr. Awale said.

Hawa Mohamoud, a 40-year-old resident with four children, said: “When I heard the explosions, I realized that we were under attack. I don’t know where I can go with these children and it seems that our turn for the insecurity has come.”

Somaliland broke with Somalia in the early 1990s and Puntland declared itself semi-autonomous in 1998.

Mohammed Ibrahim reported from Mogadishu, Somalia. Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

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