Death toll increases to 35 in Somalia court attack

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - The death toll rose on Monday to at least 35 killed in the most serious Islamic extremist attack in years on Mogadishu, a government official said.

Islamic radicals from al-Shabab launched a multi-pronged attack against the country's Supreme Court complex on Sunday. The interior minister said nine militants launched the attack, and that six exploded their suicide vests. A car bomb later exploded near the airport.

Mr Dahir Amin Jesow, a Somali legislator who heads a security committee in parliament, said on Monday that the toll from the attacks could rise even further because of the number of seriously wounded. Dozens were hurt, he said.

Al-Shabab once controlled almost all of Mogadishu. African Union and Somali forces pushed the Islamic militants out of the city in 2011, but the fighters have continued to carry out bomb attacks. The violence on Sunday was the largest and most coordinated attack since al-Shabab was forced out of the city.

Mr Abdirashid Hashi, the deputy director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, said the attack shows that al-Shabab can strike the government at will and that the group could come quite close to "decapitating" a vital government arm. The Supreme Court was in session when the attack occurred.

"What happened ... in downtown Mogadishu will force the government to revisit its priorities," Mr Hashi said by e-mail. "Because if it fails to provide security to the citizens in the capital, it will have difficulties justifying its demands in extending its writ to other parts of the country."

Mr Hashi noted that Somalia's intelligence agency and foreign governments had predicted a major al-Shabab attack. Britain's Foreign Office released a statement on Friday saying it believed a terror attack was imminent.

The top United Nations official for Somalia, Dr Augustine P. Mahiga, said he was shocked and outraged by the attack. Dr Mahiga said the total number of dead wasn't clear, but that reports indicated that "many innocent civilians were killed including women and at least one child".

The attack on the Supreme Court complex began at around 12.30pm (5.30pm Singapore time)on Sunday, sparking running battles with police and army forces. One car bomb detonated outside the court, and gunmen were seen on the roof of a court building firing shots.

On a Twitter feed believed to belong to the militants, al-Shabab appeared to take credit for the attack. A posting said five militants from the "Martyrdom Brigade" took part in the "daring" attack.

Somali security forces have moved outside of the city to confront al-Shabab militants on Mogadishu's outskirts, but that deployment has left somewhat of a security vacuum in the city itself, a vacuum that the militants exploited on Sunday, a Western official who demanded anonymity because he wasn't authorised to be quoted said on Sunday.

Despite intermittent attacks from al-Shabab, Mogadishu is generally considered more peaceful today than most of the previous seven years.

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