JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Militants attacked Mogadishu’s main courthouse Sunday in one of two attacks in Somalia that were linked to an Al Qaeda-affiliated group.
About nine gunmen wearing Somali police uniforms and suicide vests stormed the court building, firing shots and taking hostages. The attack triggered gun battles with security forces that lasted several hours and claimed more than a dozen deaths.
Al Shabab, the violent militia affiliated with Al Qaeda that opposes the Somali government, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
In the second attack, several hours later, a suicide car bomber detonated a blast near the headquarters of Somali intelligence on the road to the city’s airport as an African Union convoy passed, carrying Turkish aid workers and AU forces. Al Shabab also claimed responsibility for that attack. The extent of casualties in that attack was not immediately clear.
Security in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, has improved in the past two years, after Al Shabab abandoned the city in August 2011 and subsequently lost control of its major strongholds in the south. But the militia has continued to launch guerrilla attacks on government targets, cafes, restaurants and other targets, with civilians often killed in the attacks. Last month at least 10 people died in a suicide car bombing.
The court was in session when the attack took place, at about 12:30 p.m. local time. The attackers killed a number of security guards before entering the compound, firing shots and killing bystanders.
Associated Press reported that gunmen gained access to the roof, where they stood firing shots. Others entered the court building and took hostages, news agencies reported. It was unclear how many hostages were taken and whether any were killed.
Several of the attackers reportedly blew themselves up during the battles that followed.
AP reported that about 16 people had died, including nine attackers. Reuters said at least 19 people were dead. Other reports suggested 20 or more were killed.
Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, said the attacks were a sign of Al Shabab’s desperation, having lost control of its main strongholds.
“I want the terrorists to know that our country, Somalia, is moving and will keep moving forward and will not be prevented from achieving the ultimate goal, a peaceful and stable Somalia, by a few desperate terrorists,” Mohamud said.