WASHINGTON - Ten years ago on December 3, 2009, a suicide bomber attacked a graduation ceremony at the Shamo Hotel, one of Mogadishu’s main hotels. Fourteen medical students, lecturers, and doctors from Banadir University were among 30 people who were killed. More than 50 others were injured.
Among the survivors was Mohamed Olad Hassan, now a senior editor and writer with the VOA Somali service. Before joining VOA in November 2010, he was a Mogadishu-based correspondent for, among others, the Associated Press and the BBC World Service. Olad narrowly escaped death and he recounts his experience covering that deadly ceremony a decade ago.
I still remember that day as if it happened just days ago. Dozens of young graduating students, government ministers, proud parents, and doctors crammed inside a tent, which was shaped as a meeting hall at the hotel.
The students were all dressed in colorful uniforms for their graduation and the walls of the hall had been brightly decorated.
Such ceremonies rarely happened in Mogadishu at the time because of insecurity and lawlessness in the capital. The chances to attain academic credentials were very limited, making this particular ceremony a trace of hope.
About 25 journalists including me sat in seats on the left front side of the hall. Particularly the cameramen were right in the front for a good view. People were making speeches, and we were taking notes, as usual. Then, all the brightness turned to darkness, when a suicide bomber detonated his device in the middle of the front seats, where ministers, doctors, and other dignitaries were sitting.
Before the explosion happened, I had left my seat momentarily to move my recorder nearer to the speakers, and then I moved towards the exit of the hall to grab a bottle of water from a refreshment table outside.
All I remember is being covered in dust. Some debris apparently from the roof of a nearby building hit me and there was no light anywhere.
I, like every other person in the hall, thought it was a mortar shell attack. I looked across and the young guy sitting next to me was dead. The seat he had been sitting on was mine. We had changed positions for one moment. It was my luck not to be sitting in that chair.
Most of the survivors sprinted to the exit of the hotel but with a shock I went back to the hall, jumped over the dead bodies and then redirected myself back to the exit of the hotel.
The deafening sound of the blast was still echoing in my ears. I could hear people screaming the same question over and over: "Is it a bomb? Is it a bomb?"
I hid in a small unused dirty bathroom but already three other people, including a journalist, were in there with me.
After when I recovered from the shock, I recalled that the dead young man I saw was a journalist, Mohamed Amin, a reporter for Radio Shabelle, a local FM station in Mogadishu.