BY ABDI GULED, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Militants wearing suicide vests and carrying guns and grenades attacked the presidential palace on Friday, the latest attack in the violence-prone Somali capital of Mogadishu. The country’s president was reported to be unharmed, though others were killed.
Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein said the militants launched the attack with a car bomb, and then tried to fight their way into the presidential palace as guards returned fire. A second police officer, Ali Hassan, said a second blast was heard during the attack.
The heavily guarded presidential palace is the residence of the country’s president, prime minister and speaker of parliament.
“President just called me to say he’s unharmed. Attack on Villa Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost. I condemn strongly this terrorism,” the U.N. representative to Somalia, Nick Kay, said on Twitter.
Casualty figures were not immediately known.
The al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab has been waging war in Somalia for years as it tries to oust a Western-backed government whose military is supported by African Union forces. Al-Shabab was ousted from Mogadishu in 2011, but the militants are still able to launch attacks on the seat of government as well as sites popular with foreigners.
In Friday’s attack, a speeding car full of explosives rammed into a barricade erected by soldiers protecting the presidential palace, causing an explosion and sending plumes of smoke into the sky. Amid the mayhem, gunmen chanting “God is great” then moved toward a second gate and tried to force their way into the complex. Terrified civilians ran for cover as bullets flew past, with soldiers shooting in the air to disperse people and deter journalists coming to cover the attack.
As the gunfire intensified, a second blast was heard inside the presidential palace, suggesting some militants had penetrated the palace.
Abdikarim Hussein, Somalia’s security minister, said all the militants had been killed or arrested and that calm had returned.
It was not clear how many attackers were involved in the assault.
The Somali government is trying to restore law and order in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Militants often use suicide car bombs to penetrate the fortified targets, making it hard for soldiers to react quickly amid the ensuing chaos.