Less than 24-hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry made a historic trip to Somalia, the Islamist militant group al Shabaab carried out a bombing on an African Union (AU) peacekeeping convoy near the capital city of Mogadishu today, while shooting and killing a local politician in a separate attack.
An IED exploded next to AU vehicles as the convoy traveled in a town outside of Mogadishu, but reports on the exact number of casualties was not clear. According to Reuters, al Shabaab said there were “many” deaths, but no official figures were available at the time of publication.
In the city limits of the capital itself on Wednesday morning, gunmen reportedly opened fire at the vehicle of deputy commissioner for Mogadishu’s Wadajir district, Abdifatah Barre, killing the official before fleeing the scene. While the suspects evaded authorities, who have opened an investigation, the al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We killed the deputy district commissioner and we shall continue killing the enemies. This is part of our operation in Mogadishu,” al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters.
The group has waged its operation in Mogadishu over the last several years, largely with the aim of ousting the internationally backed government, while particularly targeting United Nations workers and troops with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In recent months al Shabaab has stormed a Christmas party at an AU base, carried out a siege on a Mogadishu hotel popular with diplomats and government workers, and killed four people in a car bombattack on a UN convoy near the capital’s airport.
While al Shabaab has typically focused its presence on Mogadishu and surrounding areas, recently the militants have surfaced in other parts of the country, like the semi-autonomous Puntland region. Al Shabaab fighters attacked a police station in the region on Monday, and in April the militants waged a deadly attack on a convoy carrying UNICEF workers in the regional capital, Garowe.
One of the major talking points during Kerry’s surprise visit to the country on Tuesday, the first for a sitting US secretary of state, was helping the Somali government combat al Shabaab. It was also a discussion topic during talks between the diplomat and Kenyan officials on Sunday and Monday, as the country faces security threats from the militant group within its borders as well, with tensions particularly high after the deadly al Shabaab attacks at Garissa University college on April 2 that left 147 dead.
“Somali forces have pushed al Shabaab [extremists] out of major population centers. A determined international effort has put virtually all of Somali pirates out of business,” Kerry said after meeting with Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and other officials.
After a string of al Shabaab-led attacks across the border in Kenya over the past year, the US appears to be prioritizing regional security. The topic came up again on Wednesday during the US official’s next stop in neighboring Djibouti, a small East African country on the Gulf of Aden that is home to thousands of American troops, and also acts as a launching point for drones sent to countries like Somalia and Yemen.