BAIDOA, Somalia (AP) â€” Somali police investigating a car bomb assassination attempt on the president arrested three suspected members of a fundamentalist Islamic group and recovered explosives Thursday, an official said.
Baidoa Governor Ahmed Madey Issaq told the Associated Press police in three armoured vehicles raided a house Thursday morning after a tip that the car used by the suicide bomber in the September 18 assassination attempt had been seen leaving the house on the day of the attack.
One of the men seized was a prayer leader at a mosque in Baidoa, 250 kilometres from the capital, Mogadishu, and the only town held by Somalia’s weak government. The government has been increasingly sidelined by the Islamic group, which holds Mogadishu.
President Abdullahi Yusuf escaped the assassination attempt unharmed. The blast killed Yusuf’s brother and four other members of the presidential detail. In an ensuing gunbattle, six suspected accomplices of the bomber were killed and two were captured.
No on claimed responsibility for the first suicide bombing in Somalia. The hardline Islamic movement has denied having anything to do with it, and repeated the denial Thursday.
“We don’t have any one in Baidoa who carries weapons or wants to attack the government,” Sheikh Yusuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Islamic Courts, told the AP by telephone from Mogadishu.
“We had said before that we are not behind the Baidoa blast. We suspect elements in the government have carried it out as they conspire against one another.” Government officials declined to comment on the arrests.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.
The government was formed in 2004 with UN help in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness. But it has struggled to assert authority, while the Islamic movement seized Mogadishu after fierce battles with secular warlords in June and now controls much of the south.
The Islamic group’s strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan’s Taleban, which was ousted by a US-led campaign for harbouring Osama Ben Laden and his Al Qaeda fighters.
The United States has accused Somalia’s Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Ben Laden has said Somalia is a battleground in his war on the West.
Despite a ceasefire agreement with the government, the Islamic group has continued its advances. Sunday, it took the key port town of Kismayo, 420 kilometres southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, without a fight.
Demonstrations against the Islamic group were held for a third day Thursday in Kismayo. Islamic fighters opened fire on the stone-throwing demonstrators, many of them women and children. Seven women were reportedly arrested. No casualties were reported.
The protesters had chanted that the fighters “are not Muslims” and “use Islam as a cover”.Â Adan Farah Sed told the AP by phone from Kismayo that residents felt threatened by the gunmen. Another resident, Adni Sagaro, said they should “go back to their bases and leave our city alone”.Â The men had opened fire on a similar protest on Monday and witnesses said a teenager was killed and two others wounded. A smaller protest by hundreds of women on Tuesday was peaceful.
On Wednesday, 300 fighters surrendered their guns and armoured trucks to the Islamic faction and pledged to join their forces. Aden Hashi Ayro, the military chief of the Islamic group in Somalia, accepted the weapons, saying their aim “is to worship Allah and fight for the sake of Islam”. Ayro, who according to the UN is a suspected Al Qaeda collaborator who trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, said: “Among our militia will be Somalis and foreigners.”