al-Shabab strikes AU peacekeeper compound

Two suicide VBIEDS exploded within a secured compound of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu, Somalia yesterday, killing 16, including the deputy commander of the mission. The attackers (apparently two per vehicle) used two captured UN SUVs. These allowed them to bypass security checks at the gate, suggesting poor access control procedures at the compound. The BBC reports:

“A security official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the soldiers at the gate had assumed the vehicles were on UN business and let them enter the base”.

And Reuters says the Somalia information minister claimed the drivers had spoken

” English and identified themselves as being from the United Nations,”

Once inside the compound, one vehicle detonated by a petrol tank, while the other appears to have targeted a meeting of the mission’s leadership with local Somali officials, suggesting the attack was based on good intelligence.

The Islamist al-Shahab group took responsibility for the attack, claiming it was in retaliation for the killing by US forces of the al-Qaida operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was wanted in connection with previous attacks in East Africa.

This is not the first time the al-Shahab group has shown considerable sophistication in its use of suicide attacks. On 29 October 2008 five near simultaneous suicide VBIED attacks struck the Ethiopian consulate, the presidential palace and a UN office in Hargeysa and two counter-terrorism intelligence offices in Bossaso, in neighbouring Puntland.

The latest attack indicates that al-Shahab retains an effective capability to mount such attacks. This was clearly a well planned and executed attack. Presumably the planners had observed the ease with which UN vehicles could access the compound, suggesting some form of pre-attack surveillance. It was also timed to coincide with a high-level meeting, which the attackers knew both the timing of and location within the compound.

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