Friday, September 18, 2009

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) | Suicide bombers in two explosives-laden cars with U.N. logos drove onto the main base of African Union peacekeepers Thursday and triggered massive blasts that a witness said killed at least 11 people. Islamist insurgents said the attack was in revenge for a U.S. commando raid that killed an al Qaeda operative.

An hour later, an Associated Press reporter saw missiles fired from the AU base strike rebel-controlled areas of the capital, hitting several civilians. A young woman and a girl lay dead on the street. Ali Muse of the Mogadishu ambulance service said the missiles killed seven people and wounded 16.

The bloodshed underscores the level of lawlessness and violence into which Somalia has fallen. After two decades of chaos, many fear the impoverished African nation is becoming a haven for al Qaeda, offering a place for terrorists to train and gather strength much like Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Al-Shabab, a powerful local Islamist insurgent group, claimed responsibility for the car bombings. Al-Shabab had vowed to attack Western interests after a raid Monday by helicopter-borne U.S. special forces that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an al Qaeda operative, in southern Somalia.

The U.S. and the U.N. both support Somalia’s government and the African peacekeeping force. Al Qaeda and al-Shabab reportedly have links, though the local group denies it.

“I have counted the bodies of 11 people,” one witness said after the car bombings, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal. The AU, however, said nine people were killed: four suicide bombers and five officials from the government and AMISOM, the AU peacekeeping force, including the Burundian deputy commander of the force.

The African Medical and Research Foundation, which operates a flying doctors service, said the U.N. asked for help evacuating 15 critically injured people from the attacked base. Bob Kioko, a foundation spokesman, said it was sending four planes.

An airport security officer said the explosions were caused by two white Land Cruisers with U.N. logos on them.

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