A Somalian woman suicide bomber killed at least 10 people, including two of the country’s top sports officials, during a ceremony at its national theatre.
The explosion happened as Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was standing at the podium to deliver a speech, but he escaped unharmed. The attack came as the capital, Mogadishu, was starting to resume a normal life after 20 years of chaos.
Fighters belonging to an Islamist group, al-Shabab, were pushed out of the capital in August by African Union and government troops. The national theatre reopened for the first time in 20 years on March 19 with a concert featuring musicians playing guitars and drums. The latest ceremony was held to mark the first anniversary of a national TV station.
The president of Somalia’s Olympic committee and the president of its soccer federation were among the dead.
“The blast happened as musicians were singing and spectators were clapping for them,” said Salah Jimale, who was at the theatre but suffered only scratches.
“Huge smoke made the whole scene go dark. People screamed and soldiers suddenly started opening fire at the gate. Some wounded people escaped and ran away.”
The International Olympic Committee said it was “shocked to hear of the terrorist attack that took the lives of the president of the Somali Olympic Committee Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur.
“Both men were engaged in improving the lives of Somalian people through sport and we strongly condemn such an act of barbarism. Our thoughts are with the Somalian sporting community who lost two great leaders and with the families of the victims.”
Outside the theatre, nervous soldiers fired into the air to disperse shocked crowds.
A period of relative peace had descended on Mogadishu after al-Shabab left, allowing sports leagues, restaurants and even a little night life to flourish. Despite those advances, al-Shabab has continued to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks, sometimes with devastating effect. Last October militants detonated a truck loaded with fuel drums at a government ministry gate, killing more than 100 people.
Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the attack and said his thoughts were with the families of those killed in the “mindless violence”.
Mr Cameron said it was a “difficult moment” for the Olympic team, which will compete at the 2012 Games, but he hoped they would “unite the country” behind their efforts in London.
Mr Cameron said: “I am deeply shocked by the sickening attack on the Somali National Theatre in Mogadishu today.
“I utterly condemn the action of these terrorists who have shown complete disregard for the lives of the Somali people and for their desire to bring back normal daily life in Mogadishu.
“And my thoughts are with the families and friends of all those who have been killed or injured in this mindless violence.”
Mr Cameron said: “At the London Conference on Somalia in February, the international community came together to back the efforts of the Somali people in building a new future for their country.
“So let us be absolutely clear today. Terrorists and violent extremists have no part in that future.”