Mogadishu (AFP) – At least five people were killed Thursday in a suicide car bombing against a hotel in Mogadishu on the eve of a visit to the Somali capital by Turkey’s president, police said.
Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels — who are fighting to overthrow the country’s internationally-backed government — said they carried out the bombing, the latest in a string of attacks by the group against high-profile targets in Mogadishu.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a major investor in Somalia, is due in Mogadishu on Friday in what will be a rare visit by a foreign leader. Officials said the trip would go ahead as planned.
“Five people were killed in the attack, among them three security guards,” police official Mohamed Adan said. “The attacker drove a car loaded with explosives aiming at the gate of the hotel but did not manage to get inside. The explosion partially destroyed the perimeter.”
Witnesses said they saw a car speeding towards the gate of the hotel.
“I saw it speeding along the main road and the driver turned into the Hotel SYL gate. There was a huge explosion, smoke and shrapnel. Several people were down on the ground,” said Abdukadir Munin.
The area around the hotel was quickly sealed off and police fired shots to keep away onlookers, witnesses said.
– ‘No such thing in Islam’: Erdogan –
The attack comes even though Mogadishu, and particularly the area around the presidential palace, has been placed under tight security ahead of Erdogan’s visit. Many of the Turkish officials inside the hotel were security personnel preparing for his arrival and businessmen, Somali sources said.
Speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Erdogan condemned the attack as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
“In what pretext they are carrying out this? If they say they do it on the pretext of Islam, I am a Muslim. There is no such thing in Islam,” he told reporters.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also told reporters in Davos that Erdogan’s visit, during which he is due to meet his counterpart Hassan Sheik Mohamud, would not be cancelled.
“Risks could happen but Turkey’s determined position will not change,” he said.
The Turkish foreign ministry also said there were no casualties among the Turkish delegation in the hotel aside from some minor cuts from flying glass.
“There could be casualties among Somalis but there was no casualty on the Turkish side. One might have been lightly injured because of the smashed windows of the hotel, and Somali authorities have raised the security level,” the ministry said.
A military spokesman for Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, confirmed the Islamists had carried out the attack.
“Our group planned the attack. A car full of explosives hit the Hotel SYL,” he told AFP, claiming that six government security officers had died in the raid.