Suicide bombers attack Somalia's main airport, killing 9 others in coordinated assault

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A suicide car bomber exploded at the gate to Mogadishu's airport Thursday, and suicide bombers in a second vehicle rushed toward the terminal before exploding themselves short of their goal, officials said. Up to 14 people were killed, including five attackers.

The coordinated assault by al-Shabab fighters was the latest in a surge of attacks by Islamist insurgents, who last month declared a new, stepped-up effort to oust the country's weak government. The barrage took place about 40 minutes after Somalia's president flew out of the country.

The Somali government and the 7,000-man African Union force that protects Somalia's weak government gave slightly differing accounts of the attack, though they agreed on the broad outlines.

After the suicide car bomber exploded at the front gate, 500 yards (meters) from the terminal, between two and four suicide bombers exited a second vehicle and battled security forces.

At least two of the suicide bombers — who were wearing Somali military uniforms — forced their way into the airport grounds and ran toward the terminal.

"Both were brought to a halt within 200 meters (yards) of the terminal building where they exploded their IED (improvised explosive device) vests," the African Union said in a statement.

Somali officials condemned the attack on the eve of the Muslim religious festival of Eid, but said they had anticipated a high-profile assault around this time. Eid marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for al-Shabab, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was aimed at a high-level meeting of U.N., African Union and Somali officials taking place at the airport.

Two soldiers with the African Union force and four Somali police officers were killed, said Maj. Barigye Bahoku, the spokesman for the AU force. The Somali government statement said three civilians also were killed. Officials indicated that up to five attackers took part in the assault, and that all five died.

A female beggar, Dahira Kheyrow, said two of her fellow beggars were among those killed. She said she fell to the ground after the car bomb went off.

"I stood up and tried to run again. Gunfire began and there was another vehicle. All I could see were two of my fellow beggars lying in a pool of blood. Their faces were burnt beyond recognition," Kheyrow said.

Al-Shabab is Somalia's most dangerous militant group. Late last month al-Shabab militants stormed a Mogadishu hotel favored by lawmakers and killed 32 people, including four parliamentarians. In July, al-Shabab masterminded twin bombings in Uganda's capital during the World Cup final, attacks that killed 76 people.

Al-Shabab recently declared a new, stepped-up campaign to overthrow Somalia's government and install the harsh, ultraconservative form of Sharia law that it practices across Somalia. Militant veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts help train al-Shabab fighters, one of the reasons the sophistication of its attacks has risen in recent months.