- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

MOGADISHU, Somalia | 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.

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