A group of al-Shabaab gunmen attacked Somalia’s Ministry of Higher Education located in Central Mogadishu on Tuesday, leaving at least 17 people dead, officials and witnesses say.
The raid started just before lunch time when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle at the gate of the ministry’s headquarters which is close to the busy KM4 conjunction, mostly used by the government officials when departing and arriving back from abroad.
Then, another two or three attackers “armed with suicide vests and heavy and light weapons entered the compound,” said a witness who was at the ministry when the attack occurred.
It was reported that the senior ministry officials, including the Minister was not around at the headquarter during the assault. Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud had hours earlier departed from Mogadishu airport to a central town.
A Spokesman from the group claimed responsibility for the attack. Last month, the extremists launched a deadly assault on a popular hotel located in the same area, killing at least 20 people including government officials.
The compound was also a base for the Ministry of Petroleum and resources.
Somalia’s US-trained Special Forces reached the scene moments later and managed to retake the control of the ministry after a short gunfire with the militants, rescuing dozens of people, the interior minister Abdirizak Omar said on his twitter account.
This attack comes less than two weeks after the group massacred 147 students in Garissa University, north eastern Kenya.
It is another sign on how the group is determined to carry out such spectacular attacks, while many people have accused the federal government of failing to tackle the militants’ assaults.
Since last year, al-Shabaab seems to have increased attacks on soft targets – shopping malls, hotels, tourist sites, bus stops, railway stations, and restaurants as well as religious venues and schools – both in Somalia and Kenya.
The group’s latest attack reflects on diminished power against the African Union and Somalian government when they were unable to initiate massive counterattack. As compared with control of“half of the country”at the height of Al-Shabaab’s power, the territory under the group’s control since the beginning of 2013 is very small. To alleviate pressure in the frontline battlefield, Al-Shabaab was desperate and intended to push back foreign“intervention forces”by attacking soft targets.