MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – Two large explosions followed by gunfire were heard Saturday near the presidential palace in Somalia’s capital, with police saying two people including an attacker were killed.
The midday blasts came a week after a similar attack on the interior ministry compound in Mogadishu killed at least nine people.
Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein confirmed the deaths in the new attack to The Associated Press, saying a car bomb detonated near a checkpoint close to the presidential palace after security forces engaged with gunmen. A second car bomb blast occurred in the same area shortly afterward.
The Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group, an arm of al-Qaida, often targets high-profile places in the capital. It claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, saying its fighters were conducting a “major operation” around the palace and nearby SYL Hotel.
Al-Shabab was blamed for the October truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 500 people in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
The threat from what has become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa has hurt efforts to strengthen Somalia’s fragile government and stabilize the long-chaotic Horn of Africa nation.
The United States under the Trump administration has stepped up military efforts in Somalia, including dozens of drone strikes, against al-Shabab and a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State group. At least two U.S. military personnel have been killed.
The U.S. military and others in the international community have expressed concern about the plan for Somalia’s security forces to take over the country’s security from a multinational African Union force over the next few years, saying the local troops are not yet ready.