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Suicide bomber kills 11 soldiers in Somalia

Two bombers, one in a car, target African Union troops in the attack. The soldiers are in Somalia to support its fragile transitional government.

February 23, 2009|Edmund Sanders

NAIROBI, KENYA — A suicide car bomb attack against African Union peacekeepers in Somalia on Sunday killed 11 Burundian soldiers and wounded 15, the deadliest attack against AU troops since their deployment two years ago.

Insurgents from the Shabab militia, which claims links to Al Qaeda, took responsibility and vowed to continue assaults against AU soldiers who have been helping shore up Somalia's shaky transitional government.

"Go home, otherwise you will meet our hell," Shabab leader Muktar Robow warned AU troops while speaking by telephone to reporters after the attack.

He said two suicide bombers -- one in a vehicle and another wearing an explosives-packed vest -- infiltrated the AU base at the former Somali National University.

Hundreds of displaced people are living around the campus, and one witness said he saw two civilians among the dead.

"I saw a four-wheel-drive car driving at a high speed and then heard a massive explosion," said Kalid Ali Nur, a civilian.

AU and United Nations officials condemned the attack as an attempt by insurgents to detract attention from efforts to form a new unity government. Since January, the government has named a new president, prime minister and, on Saturday, a Cabinet.

"They are trying to destabilize the situation and take away attention from the good news," said Susannah Price, a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s special representative to Somalia.

The attack comes as the AU and United Nations are struggling to boost the number of peacekeepers in Somalia from the current level of about 3,500 Burundian and Ugandan soldiers.

AU troops have been subject to increased attacks since Ethiopian soldiers withdrew from the country in January.

Newly appointed Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a former leader of the Islamist alliance that once included Shabab, has been calling upon his former partners to join the government, which was expanded in January to incorporate a major Islamist faction.

On Saturday, a clerics group in Somalia urged insurgents to halt their attacks against African Union soldiers and allow peace to return to the capital, Mogadishu.

Last month, more than a dozen civilians were killed during a car bomb attack in Mogadishu that targeted AU troops. In that case, many of the casualties were reportedly killed by AU troops during a shootout that followed the explosion. The AU is investigating the deaths.

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edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Special correspondent Yusuf Hagi Hussein in Mogadishu contributed to this report.

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