JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nine militants and two Somali government officials were killed when an Al Qaeda-linked terror group attacked the presidential compound in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on Friday.
President Hassan Sheik Mohamud, whose residence and office are in the compound known as Villa Somalia, was unharmed.
Two suicide bombers in two cars attacked the compound, triggering massive explosions, before a group of seven armed gunmen opened fire, according to Somali security officials.
The Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked Somali terror group that carried out last year’s deadly assault on a shopping mall in Kenya, claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, Reuters news agency reported.
Mohamud said the attack wouldn’t stop the government from doing its work.
"An act of terrorism, however unspeakable, does not hide the truth that this is a marginal group on the brink of extinction," he said in a statement.
His office tweeted that the Shabab had gained nothing from the attack.
"Don't be fooled by this 'media spectacular.' This is another act of desperation from a dying animal,” the tweet said.
The attack came amid a recent worrying uptick in bombings in the Somali capital, where the government is trying to restore stability after decades of chaos. Although the Shabab has been seriously weakened by African Union forces, it is still capable of unleashing powerful attacks.
Somali Security Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled told Reuters that an official in the prime minister’s office and a security official were killed in the attack.
He said nine militants were involved in the attack, two of whom were blown up in the suicide attack as the explosives-laden cars rammed a compound gate, and seven of whom were shot by government security forces.
The United Nations special representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, confirmed the attack in a tweet.
"President just called me to say he's unharmed. Attack on Villa Somalia had failed. Sadly some lives lost," he said.
Kay condemned the attack in a later statement.
“This is another desperate and criminal act, which does nothing but harm to the people of Somalia,” he said. “The Somali people are tired of shootings, bombings and killings. It’s time for a new chapter in Somalia’s history, and we cannot allow a slide back at this critical time.”
“The U.N. and the international community remain steadfast in their determination to see a new Somalia rise and continue to support Somalia in its quest to stabilize and rebuild institutions,” he added.
It’s not the first attempt on the president. In 2012, several suicide bombers blew themselves up as he addressed a news conference at a Mogadishu hotel.
The Shabab, which controlled much of the country for about five years until it was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011, has since been waging a guerrilla campaign of suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations and other attacks.
Local media and international agencies reported that some of the gunmen reached a mosque in the compound where government officials were attending Friday prayers, in an apparent attempt to assassinate the president. However, Mohamud was not at the mosque at the time.
Reuters quoted a police officer at the scene, Hussein Farah, saying the heavily armed gunmen were disguised in military uniforms.
"All the Shabab fighters perished," he said. "Some blew up themselves, while others were shot dead. Several government guards also died. Now the fighting is over, and scattered on the scene is human flesh and blood.”
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