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Suspected Suicide Bomber Fails to Kill Somalia's Interim President


Bomb blast kills five people in convoy, including President Yusuf's brother, security forces kill six presumed assailants in a gunbattle. Officials say several other people were wounded in the blast. Meanwhile, the body of an Italian nun killed in the capital was flown to the Kenyan capital late Sunday.

Somalia's foreign minister, Esmael Mohamud Hurreh, told VOA the bombing was apparently an assassination attempt against Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, as he was leaving a session in parliament. "As he moved out of the compound of the parliament, about a few hundred meters away, a car exploded. The president was not hurt, but only the cars of the convoy got caught in the explosion. The car was exploded through a remote control thing," he said.

Hurreh tells VOA parliament was meeting to vote on whether or not to endorse a six-month plan put forth by the country's prime minister.

The foreign minister says he thinks the explosion was meant to bring further instability to volatile Somalia. But he stopped short of blaming the Union of Islamic Courts, which has established a parallel government in the capital Mogadishu. "I would rather leave that to the investigations now afoot. But, lately, you have been hearing very belligerent statements from the Islamic courts. I would not say that they are behind it, but definitely there were some very belligerent statements being given by the Islamic courts. The attempt [of the statements] is to pre-empt the negotiations that will take place on the 30th of this month," he said.

Somalia's interim government and the rebel Union of Islamic Courts, which now controls many of the country's cities, have been trying to negotiate a peace agreement.

The two sides met in Sudan earlier this month, and are to finalize their agreement at the end of next month. However, a deadlock continues over the issue of a regional peacekeeping force that the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development has offered, and which the African Union has endorsed. The Islamists are vehemently opposed to having foreign peacekeepers in Somalia.

Monday's car explosion follows on the heels of the murder of an Italian Catholic nun in Mogadishu Sunday.

Some have speculated that her murder was a reaction to the controversy over a speech Pope Benedict XVI gave last week, in which he quoted a comment critical of Islam.

The foreign minister says he thinks the murder of the nun had more to do with destabilizing Somalia than showing displeasure with the pope's speech.

Ever since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order and even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago, following the peace process.

Earlier this year, the Union of Islamic Courts seized control of the capital and other areas before reaching a truce with the internationally-backed government.