Al Shabab has carried out an armed assault on Somalia's presidential palace, penetrating the fortified complex. Security had been increased after al Shabab attacked the parliament building over the weekend.
The Shabab attackers reportedly blew themselves up after penetrating the presidential palace, known as Villa Somalia, on Tuesday. Officials reported that the internationally backed president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elsewhere at the time of the attack, remained safe under the protection of guards from the African Union's 22,000-strong AMISOM force.
"There were at least nine attackers, all have been killed, and the situation is under control, the attack is over," security official Abdi Ahmed said on Tuesday. "There were eight blasts towards the end of the fighting, believed to have been suicide vests. They detonated themselves."
Police said the attackers had launched a two-pronged assault on the complex, setting off a car bomb at the rear of the compound and then storming in via another entrance. On Tuesday, a Shabab spokesman confirmed that the al Qaeda-linked group had launched the attack, and claimed fighters managed to seize the president's office inside the compound.
"Our commandos are inside the so-called presidential office," Shabab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told the news agency AFP on Tuesday. "We are in control of the headquarters of the apostate regime." He had added that "the enemy suffered high casualties during the operation, which is ongoing."
'The peaceful state'
Witnesses told news agencies that the heavy gunfire and several blasts died down about an hour after it began. The speaker of the parliament was reported to be inside the presidential palace at the time of the attack but was said to be safe after.
Nicholas Kay, the UN's top envoy to the country, condemned the attack, calling it "an attempt to rob Somalis of the peaceful state they deserve." Kay added that "terror will not win."
In February, Shabab fighters also assaulted the presidential palace, penetrating the complex before guards killed them. In May, the group also launched a similar suicide attack against the national parliament while in session, killing several guards and staff before AMISOM and Somali government forces restored control.
Al Shabab has also claimed a host of attacks abroad in recent days.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)