MOGADISHU, Somalia – A wave of homicide bombings killed more than 20 people Wednesday in northern Somalia, striking just as international leaders held talks on ending decades of deadly turmoil in this chaotic African nation.
The five seemingly coordinated attacks targeted a U.N. compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa. All occurred in the breakaway republic of Somaliland and in Somalia's Puntland region — both of which have largely been spared the deadly violence seen in the country's south.
"It was a horrendous scene," said Ismail Mohamed, a 22-year-old Hargeisa resident who saw bloodied victims screaming and begging for help after the blast at the palace. "It is a woeful day."
"(They) certainly bear some of the markings of an al-Qaida attack," said Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She spoke in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where the international talks on Somalia were being held.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts, but in the past Islamist rebels with alleged ties to al-Qaida have launched such strikes to coincide with international efforts to end the turmoil in this impoverished Horn of Africa nation.
"We are still counting the bodies," said Ismail Adani, a spokesman for the government of Somaliland. He said at least 20 people died in those attacks — not including an unknown number of homicide bombers — and that the death toll could rise.
Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin's secretary died in the blast at the palace, but the president was not hurt, Adani said. Kahin said in a radio broadcast it was too early to tell who was behind the attacks.
homicide bombers also attacked two intelligence facilities in the northern port city of Bossaso in Puntland. The two bombers and a security official died in the attack, said Muse Gelle Yusuf, the governor in Bossaso.
Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, when clan warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The current government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has failed to protect citizens from violence or the country's poverty.
Islamic militants have waged an Iraq-style insurgency against Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies for almost two years. The nearly daily mortar attacks and gunbattles have killed thousands of Somali civilians in the capital, deaths that all sides blame on each other.
Somalia's north has tried to sever ties with the chaotic south, which includes the beleaguered capital, Mogadishu. Puntland has a semiautonomous administration, and Somaliland has long sought international recognition as being its own nation, separate from Somalia.
Regional heads of state, along with Frazer, met Wednesday in Nairobi to discuss Somalia's crisis. The talks included Somalia's president and some members of Somalia's opposition, but none of the hard-line members who have denounced any talks with the government and who are behind much of the bloodshed in Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab, the military wing of Somalia's Islamic movement, has not participated in any talks. The State Department considers al-Shabab, or "The Youth," a terrorist organization.
After the meeting ended Wednesday, the participants did not take questions from the media but released a joint statement lamenting "the lack of unity and unhelpful competition among the leadership" in Somalia and calling for a new Cabinet to be formed within 15 days.
The members of the regional bloc, known as IGAD, are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.