At least five people were killed when al-Shabab militants attacked several police stations and security checkpoints early Wednesday in and around Somalia's capital city, Mogadishu, officials and the militants said.
Somali police spokesman Col. Abdifatah Aden Hassan said the attacks, which began just before 1 a.m. (2200 GMT) local time, targeted police stations and checkpoints in two quiet neighborhoods, Kahda in Mogadishu, and the Darussalam suburb on the city’s outskirts.
“We were shocked by the magnitude of the explosions and the sound of the heavy gunfire that followed,” said one Darussalam resident who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
Somali National TV reported that five people, two of them children, were killed.
Several injured people also were admitted to the hospitals, according to health officials.
The two neighborhoods experienced massive real estate development in recent years as a large number of Somali families moved there after being internally displaced.
Darussalam city features modern housing, leisure, and security Infrastructure that encouraged more of the Somali diaspora to invest in the country.
“The attacks began with two explosive-laden vehicles. Such attacks were intended to disrupt the peace, the development, and the calmness in these residential areas and to discourage Somali diaspora from investment,” Aden said.
After the attacks, Somalia’s minister of internal security, Abdullahi Mohamed Nor, said on Twitter, "The terrorists attacked the suburbs of Mogadishu and targeted our police stations and checkpoints. Our security defeated the enemy."
A statement aired on Radio Andalus, a broadcaster that supports the militants, said heavily armed assailants struck government targets in four districts in the capital and another area on the outskirts.
The statement claimed the militants overran several bases and seized military vehicles and weapons.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA Somali the militants commandeered at least one police station in the Kahda area.
“They overran the police officers manning the station, killing one officer and a prisoner,” the official said. “They … took two police vehicles and left.”
The Islamist militant al-Shabab group conducts frequent attacks in Somalia with the aim of overthrowing the government.
Analysts say these latest attacks were intended to be a show of force by al-Shabab militants as the nation tries to complete the election of members of parliament’s lower house and prepares for a much-delayed presidential election.
“As the country's top leaders have been in a constant political dispute, which diverted the attention from the country's security,” says former Somali National Security Adviser Hussein Moallim, who now directs the Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based research firm. “It has been predictable that the militants remobilize and carry out such brazen attacks on police stations in Mogadishu and of course it is their show of force."
Speaking Tuesday to the United Nations Security Council, James Swan, the secretary-general’s special representative for Somalia, said the “al-Shabab militant group continues to pose a major security threat to Somalia, with the Banadir region and Southwest states serving as its center of operations.”
“Recent months have also seen an increase in the use of improvised explosive devices and rising numbers of attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, with civilian casualties,” Swan added.
The international community and the United States have expressed concern about the finalization of the elections, which are now more than a year behind schedule.
Somalia’s civil society and women groups have expressed major concerns that representation by women remains significantly off track.
In his statement, Swan said, “Somalia’s leaders must put aside their differences and urgently conclude a credible election process.”
Elections for lawmakers began on November 1 and initially were supposed to conclude on December 24, but they currently are due to be completed on February 25, with the United States pressing Somali leaders to hold quick and credible elections before this date.
Last week, the U.S. barred unnamed current and former Somali officials and others accused of undermining the democratic process in Somalia from traveling to the U.S.
VOA's Hassan Kafi Qoyste contributed to this story.