Friday, September 18, 2009



By Barbara Among

Two powerful explosions ripped through the African Union peacekeepers’ compound at Mogadishu airport yesterday, killing nine peacekeepers, four of them Ugandans, according to military sources.

The afternoon attack killed deputy force commander Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyonguruza of Burundi and injured Ugandan force commander Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha.

The AU said in a statement that 15 soldiers had been injured. Five attackers were also killed, said the AU spokesman in Somalia, Barigye Bahoku.

At least two bombs exploded at the force headquarters in a fortified compound at Mogadishu airport, the AU said in a statement which condemned the “barbaric attack”.

“There was a suicide bomber that infiltrated the convoy, the blast brought down the wall, killing the peacekeepers,” said army spokesperson Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye.

“Among those who died is the AMISOM deputy commander, Maj. Gen. Juvenal Niyonguruza, who was about to complete his tour of duty.”

Niyonguruza was at the AU headquarters to introduce his successor when the attack took place. Kulayigye said Mugisha’s injuries were minor. He took over the command of the force last month.

The injured, including Mugisha, were evacuated to Nairobi for medical treatment. By press time, the army was still getting details of the dead and wounded.

A Reuter’s reporter said he saw six wounded soldiers being carried away from the site of the explosions, some bleeding heavily, while thick smoke rose into the sky over Somalia’s capital.

Witnesses said the bombs not only killed AU peacekeepers but also Somalis who had been waiting for medical treatment at the AU base. The exact number of casualties was not known by press time.

Security officials and witnesses said two vehicles with United Nations logos were used in the attack.

“The soldiers at the gate assumed they were UN cars and opened the gate for them,” the BBC quoted a security official.

“When the cars entered, one of them sped toward a petrol depot and exploded. The other one exploded in a nearby area.”

Soldiers took up positions near the entrance to the base and fired into the air after the explosions, according to a witness.

This is so far the deadliest attack on the peacekeepers since 11 Burundians were killed and 28 wounded in February by two suicide bombers. It also followed one of the most violent months the city witnessed in 10 years.

The Islamist al-Shabab group has claimed responsibility for the attack. It said it was a revenge for Monday’s US killing of a Kenyan-born al-Qaeda suspect, Salah Saleh Nabhan.

“We have got our revenge for our brother Nabhan. Two suicide car bombs targeting the AU base, praise Allah,” Al-Shabaab’s spokesman told Reuters.
“It took place at noon on the 27th of Ramadan, the best blessing.
“We knew the infidel government and AU troops planned to attack us after the holy month. This is a message to them.”

Nabhan, a Kenyan citizen wanted by the FBI over the 2002 attacks in Mombasa, was killed when his vehicle was targeted by US helicopters in southern Somalia, according to US officials and Western security sources.

Hardline Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the transitional government have repeatedly targeted the 5,000-strong peacekeeping force, made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi.

So far 34 AU soldiers have been killed since the force first deployed in March 2007, 17 of them Ugandans.