A female suicide bomber blew herself up Wednesday during an address by Somalia’s prime minister in Mogadishu, killing four people, including the country’s Olympic and football bosses.
The young woman detonated her suicide belt as Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was on the podium addressing 200 people at the Somali national theatre on the first anniversary of the launch of Somalia’s satellite TV network.
Somali Olympic Committee president Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were killed in the blast.
The prime minister, and seven other ministers standing beside him when the young woman set off her explosives, were unharmed.
“There are four dead, including the president of the Olympic committee and the president of the football federation,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, the Somali prime minister’s spokesman, told AFP.
Seconds after the blast, chaos filled the venue as the dead and the wounded could be seen slumped on their chairs and lying on the floor while police escorted some of the injured to awaiting ambulances.
At least seven journalists were also wounded, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said.
The Islamist Shebab rebels who have carried out similar attacks in the past stopped short of claiming direct responsibility.
“The action was carried out by people who support the Shebab,” Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rage, the group’s spokesman, told a pro-Shebab radio.
Somalia’s Information Minister Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed however laid the blame squarely on the Al Qaeda-linked group.
“The cowardly attack was carried out by Shebab non-believers,” Mohamed told Radio Mogadishu.
The Chinese-built theatre was re-opened last month by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the prime minister for the first time in 20 years.
The president of football’s world governing body, Sepp Blatter, expressed shock at the death of the two Somali sports chiefs.
“I knew both men personally and can only say good things about their endless efforts to promote sport and football in their country. They will be sorely missed,” the FIFA president said.
The pair had last week inspected the reconstruction of the national stadium in Mogadishu, a city which had slowly been coming back to life since Somali and African Union forces secured most of it late last year.
Somalia’s deputy sports minister had said people were eager to “benefit from the peaceful atmosphere” in Mogadishu and his minister had praised all those who had been killed or wounded in recent years while promoting Somali sports.
The stadium was previously used by the Shebab rebels as a training centre, turning the pitch into a firing range to test homemade armour piercing bullets.
But last year, Western-backed AU troops seized the stadium and used it as a forward base for assaults on rebel holdouts before turning it over to the government for restoration as a sports venue.
Despite the lull in street fighting, Mogadishu has been plagued by a series of suicide and grenade attacks since the Shebab rebels abandoned fixed bases in August and reverted to guerrilla tactics.
A suicide bomber last month killed at least five people in an attack at the heavily guarded presidential palace.
In regions under their control, the extremist militia have banned football, watching movies, Western music and dressing, with offenders often flogged or publicly executed.
AU force deputy commander Audace Nduwumunsi described the bombing as a “despicable crime against the Somali people” and UN special envoy Augustine Mahiga also expressed outrage.
“The reopening of the National Theatre is symbolic of the real change that is happening in Somalia: the city is being rebuilt, culture is being revived and hope is being restored,” he said in a statement.
Britain, which has recently sought to lead international efforts to end the crisis in Somalia, also reacted.
“I unreservedly condemn today’s barbaric attack. This will only serve to strengthen our resolve to help the Somali people bring lasting peace and stability,” Britain’s ambassador to Somalia Matt Baugh said.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government, allowing armed groups, pirates and extremists rebels to thrive and establish control in vast regions.