February 10, 2012
As Ayman al-Zawahiri formally inducted al-Shabaab into al-Qaeda, Mogadishu residents were counting casualties from a suicide attack at a popular café that left at least 15 dead on Wednesday (February 8th).
On Thursday, a video message posted on extremist forums by al-Zawahiri announced that the al-Shabaab movement has joined al-Qaeda. The announcement came more than eight months after al-Shabaab swore allegiance to the terror group.
"This is no news to us," said Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed, minister of information with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG). "We knew all along that they were one and the same. And that al-Shabaab leaders were fully paid agents and representatives of al-Qaeda, a foreign terrorist organisation engaged in the most un-Islamic activities of murdering innocent Muslim Somali civilians."
According to Somali officials, the Wednesday suicide attack killed 15 civilians and injured 20, including two members of parliament. The café is close to the Muna Hotel where many parliamentarians and government security officials are staying.
"They are cowards, attacking soft targets -- innocent people drinking tea," said Mogadishu Mayor Mohamed Ahmed Nur.
In the video message, al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, addressed al-Zawahiri, saying, "In the name of my mujahedeen brothers, leaders and soldiers... I pledge obedience."
"Lead us on the road of jihad and martyrdom, in the footsteps that our martyr Osama bin Laden had drawn for us," he said, referring to al-Qaeda's former leader who was killed last year in Pakistan.
"The Somali government is actually very pleased that the time for al-Shabaab to masquerade as an indigenous Somali-Islamic organisation is gone forever," Mohamed said. "The whole international community knows now what we knew for a long time and should join our fight against al-Qaeda in Somalia unreservedly".
Former al-Shabaab member and current member of the TFG military Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, also known as Indha Adde, told Radio Shabelle that the merger will add little to al-Shabaab's current status, except that it will now be called "al-Qaeda in Somalia" instead of "al-Qaeda linked group".
He said the current al-Shabaab leadership was always "under the management of al-Qaeda".
"Al-Qaeda is dead. I believe the Muslim world will now have complete understanding that these groups are blood-suckers and against the basic principles of Islam. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Ahmed Godane are like father and son," Siyad said.
The Somali Transitional Federal Government, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa and civil society organisations have all condemned the Wednesday suicide attack.
The attack occurred hours after the EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa Alexander Rondos visited high-ranking officials in the Somali government.
Ali Mussa, head of ambulance services for the Lifeline African Foundation, a local first-aid organisation, told Sabahi, "We removed 17 injured people from the scene of the crime and took them to hospitals in Mogadishu, all of whom were civilians and suffered from serious injuries."
Mogadishu police officer Ahmed Ali told Sabahi that the attack "was unexpected and took the security services by surprise because the hotel is located in an area of town that is semi-protected by the government and AU forces".
"The hotel is separated from the presidential palace by only one street," he said.
Al-Shabaab immediately claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Sheikh Abdul Azziz Abu Musaab, spokesperson for the group's military operations, told the Andalus Radio Station, a mouthpiece of the movement, that the explosion targeted a restaurant considered to be a club for parliamentarians, prominent government officials and intelligence officers.
Abu Musaab pledged more suicide attacks against "government" targets. Since it withdrew its fighters from the capital last year, al-Shabaab has resorted to using suicide bombers, planting explosive ordnance and throwing grenades in various parts of the city.
"This barbaric act by al-Shabaab shows the cruelty of terrorists and how cowardly they are, a defining feature of their criminal acts. Every time they are defeated militarily, they go after soft targets," Somali Defence Minister Hussain Arab Issa said following a cabinet meeting. "At a time when the Somali government is working towards development, the terrorists have nothing to offer the people but death, ruin and destruction."
Minister of Interior and National Security Abdul Samad Mualim Mahmoud said the government will concentrate its efforts on protecting the people. He said the latest attack cannot be considered an indicator of the fragility of the security situation in Mogadishu.
"Over the past couple of months, the security services have been able to thwart several potential attacks, and such attacks could happen anywhere in the world … The transitional government will not rest or withhold its efforts when it comes to protecting the people. On the contrary, this incident will reinforce our determination to get rid of the extremists and fundamentalists," he said.
Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa also condemned the suicide attack. "Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa strongly condemns the crimes committed by extremists against innocent Somalis," said Sheikh Abdul Razzaq al-Ashaari, spokesperson for the pro-government Islamist group.
Muna Hotel was also targeted in a suicide operation on August 24th, 2010 that killed 34 people, among them six members of parliament.
The attack came at a time when Mogadishu has been witnessing relative calm as people started rebuilding their normal lives in the city after being displaced.
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