Somali rebel group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for a failed suicide bombing attempt against the defense minister for the Western-backed Mogadishu government. The capital city lies mostly abandoned as remaining residents have fled in expectation of a government offensive.
Somali Defense Minister Yusuf Mohamed Siad, better known by his nickname "Inda'ade," survived an assassination attempt Monday after a car carrying explosives blew up near his convoy in Mogadishu.
The minister says that after the first car failed to directly hit his vehicle, a second one nearby exploded as well. Two of his bodyguards were reportedly hurt in the blasts, and an unknown number of civilians.
Eyewitness Mohamed Elmi says that three passengers in the minibus he was driving were wounded when the Toyota Hilux exploded in front of him.
Al-Shabab immediately put out a statement claiming it was behind the attack, which occurred near the Ambassador Hotel on a road linking the presidential palace to the Kilometer 4 junction.
The hotel is right next to an African Union base for the peacekeeping mission known as AMISOM. The spot of Monday's blast was also the location of a 2008 attack against an AMISOM patrol, which killed 21 women who were collecting trash along the side of the road.
The attack comes as the capital has been anxiously waiting for all-out war to erupt in the city's streets. The government has announced it is imminently launching a new offensive against the rebels, who control much of Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia.
The rebel forces, composed of fighters from the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam groups, have been pouring in reinforcements from other strongholds to ready themselves for the announced counter-insurgency campaign.
The ongoing delay in the offensive will likely further embolden critics of the federal government, many of whom accuse the besieged administration of flagrant ineptitude and corruption. Some doubt whether the Somali army - seen as poorly paid and poorly equipped - is truly capable of carrying out the offensive against such a determined opposition.
A Kenyan government source has been quoted by Reuters as saying that 2,500 new Somali recruits have just finished their training within Kenya and will be sent to bolster the Mogadishu government's army. Al-Shabab has warned Kenya against provocation, with some reports indicating that it has declared "jihad" against the neighboring country for allegedly aiding its declared enemy.
Al-Shabab has publicly allied itself with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and is considered a terrorist group by U.S. authorities.
The Somali defense minister, a former member of al-Shabab, had recently accused the leader of Hizbul Islam of being "held hostage" by the more powerful al-Shabab rebels, saying the life of Hizbul Islam leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys is under threat from the other main rebel group.
A Somali member of parliament from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland on Saturday announced his defection to al-Shabab, saying the move was prompted by the indiscriminate killings of civilians by the AMISOM troops, made up of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers.