Three Somali ministers killed in suicide blast

MOGADISHU: A suicide bomber killed 19 people including three Somali government ministers at a graduation ceremony for medical students in a Mogadishu hotel today, officials said.

The blast is the most serious attack on the transitional federal government since the launch of an Al-Qaeda inspired Islamist insurgency that has brought new strife to the Horn of Africa nation.

“A suicide bomber detonated an explosion inside Hotel Shamo ... during the graduation ceremony of medical students of the Banadir University resulting in the deaths of, so far, 19 civilians and injuries to several others,” the African Union force in Somalia AMISOM said.

Several ministers from the UN-backed government were attending the ceremony when the explosion went off. Most of the victims were students.

A hotel security official said the suicide bomber was probably among the guests. The head of an NGO operating in Mogadishu said the bomber was dressed as a woman.

Higher Education Minister Ibrahim Hassan Addow and Health Minister Qamar Aden were killed on the spot and Education Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Waayel died shortly after the blast, a senior government official said.

Sports Minister Suleyman Olad Roble was among the injured, the official added.

Two journalists, one from Shabele Radio and another from Al Arabiya television, and a doctor were also killed, a source at the hotel said. AFP photographer Mohamed Dahir sustained slight injuries.

“We were waiting outside the conference room when there was a huge explosion. I found myself on the ground in the middle of the smoke and screaming,” said Dahir.

“I went to get my camera, and that’s when I saw the bodies of the three ministers.” New EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the bombing and promised to seek a coordinated international response to Somalia’s woes.

“I condemn in the strongest terms possible this cowardly attack against civilians

including students, doctors and journalists,” Ashton said in a statement.

In Kampala, the acting head of AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Wafula Wamunyini, said the attack “was intended to intimidate and blackmail the TFG. We condemn this incident in the strongest terms.” Thousands have been killed in Mogadishu in recent years as Islamists battle for control of the capital.The Somali insurgents launched a fresh offensive against the transitional government of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on May 7 and clashes since then have left more than 250 dead while an estimated 120,000 people have fled the city.

The Shebab militia have vowed to bring down the government and force all African Union peacekeepers out of the country.

Somalia has had no effective government since President Mohamed Siad Barre was forced out of power in the early 1990s.