- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya | Somalia’s national security minister and at least 24 other people were killed in a suicide attack Thursday, and an extremist Islamic group with purported links to al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed accused al Qaeda of being behind the bombing, which also killed a senior Somali diplomat. In March, Osama bin Laden, the leader of the global terrorist network, urged Somalis to overthrow Mr. Ahmed, calling him a tool of the United States in an audiotape that outlined al Qaeda’s ambitions in Somalia.

The bombing in western Somalia far outside Mogadishu raised concerns that Somali insurgents are aiming to take out leaders of security forces to further cripple the country’s weak, U.N.-backed government. Analysts say the insurgents have identified suicide attacks and assassinations as the best way to defeat the government.

National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was the second senior security official killed in as many days. Mogadishu’s police chief died during fighting with Islamic insurgents in the capital on Wednesday that saw at least 34 people killed.

“Omar Hashi Aden’s death is a huge blow to the government,” said Ali Said Omar, director of the Nairobi, Kenya-based Center for Peace and Democracy, an independent research organization that works in Somalia.

The national security minister had become an important figure in the government because he was successfully recruiting militiamen to fight anti-government forces in central and southern regions of Somalia, where it has few allies, Mr. Omar said.

Belet Weyne, where Mr. Aden was killed, is the capital of the central Somalia region of Hiran.

Diplomats had described a surge in violence in May as a major push by the insurgents, backed by foreign Islamic militants, to topple the government in Mogadishu. But government forces managed to hold on to the few blocks in the capital they control as well, as to the airport and seaport that are guarded by African Union peacekeepers.

During Thursday’s suicide attack, witness Mohamed Nur said, a small car headed toward the gate of the Medina Hotel in Belet Weyne, then drove into vehicles leaving the hotel and exploded.

Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for the extremist Somali Islamic group Al-Shabab, told local radio stations by telephone that his group carried out the attack and that one of its fighters died.

“We killed the national security minister and the former ambassador to Ethiopia,” said Rage, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 18 years after warlords overthrew Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into anarchy and chaos. The lawlessness also has allowed Somali pirates to flourish, making the waters before the Somali coast the world’s worst piracy hot spot.

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