An African Union force in Somalia reacts after Al Qaeda-linked insurgents… (Mohamed Abdiwahab / AFP/Getty…)
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- At least 15 people died when an Al Qaeda-linked militia attacked a U.N. compound here Wednesday, government officials said.
The dead included the attackers and four foreigners, including two South African de-miners who worked for the arms manufacturer Denel, the company confirmed. Dozens more were wounded.
Witnesses said the attack began when a suicide bomber in a car detonated an explosion outside the United Nations Development Program headquarters in Mogadishu, the capital. As the smoke cleared, gunmen in two other cars ran into the compound shooting, according to Abdi Ibrahim, a witness who was nearby as the assault unfolded before midday.
"First there was one big explosion, followed by three other explosions," he told The Times. "Then I saw uniformed men running into the compound."
The ensuring gunfight lasted more than an hour, according to witnesses.
Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked militia that opposes the Somali government, later claimed responsibility for the attack, reporting that white foreigners were victims.
"The U.N., a merchant of death and a satanic force of evil, has a long inglorious record of spreading nothing but poverty, dependency and disbelief," the group said on its Twitter account, HSMPress1. (An earlier Al Shabab account with a similar name was disabled by Twitter.)
"Mujahedin units from the Martyrdom Brigade have stormed the UNDP compound near the airport in Mogadishu," the group said. "Some of the 'white kuffar' who tried to engage the mujahedin in combat inside the offices were killed and thrown out into the compound."
Somali Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled said eight U.N. workers were killed, including the four foreigners. Seven attackers also were slain.
"Our special forces overcame the attackers," the minister said. Troops with the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, also were involved.
Security has gradually improved in Mogadishu since Al Shabab lost territory to African Union and Somali forces. The militia controlled most of the country until August 2011, when it fled the capital. Since then, it has lost control of its major stronghold in southern Somalia, including the major towns and ports, cutting its economic lifeline.
After more than 20 years of war and chaos, Somalia last year saw its first elected government and president.
But despite a period of relative peace and prosperity not seen since the 1991 collapse of the country into civil war, Al Shabab still carries out occasional attacks and suicide bombings.
Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon condemned the attack.
“Somali and AMISOM security forces responded immediately to the situation after the initial explosion and have brought the situation under control. All our thoughts and prayers are with our U.N. colleagues today," he said.
"But Al Shabaab will not derail the peace process. They will not stop our recovery. Violence will not win."
African Union Commission special representative Mahamat Saleh Annadif vowed that the attack would not disrupt the process of rebuilding Somalia.
"These futile attacks by Al Shabab are only aimed at disrupting the ongoing efforts by the Somali people to recover from years of violence in Somalia," he said, "and will not deter our collective efforts to continue supporting the people of Somalia rebuild their country."
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Special correspondent Mohammed reported from Mogadishu and Times staff writer Dixon from Johannesburg, South Africa.