Mogadishu: Seven al-Qaeda-linked gunmen detonated a pick-up truck rigged with explosives at the gate of the UN compound in Somalia`s capital today, launching a bombs-and-gunfire assault that saw militants pour into the complex, killing at least nine people, including three foreigners, officials said.
The seven al-Shabab militants were from what the militia called its martyrdom, or suicide, brigade. They all died in the assault, an official said, bringing the overall death toll to at least 16.
The attack comes only six months after the United Nations expanded its presence in Mogadishu, where it had kept only a small operation because Islamic insurgents had controlled much of the capital until being pushed out in an offensive in 2011.
Al-Shabab said on its Twitter feed shortly after the 11:30 am attack began that its fighters "are now in control of the entire compound and the battle is still ongoing."
African Union and Somali security forces responded and took control of the compound by 12:30 p.M. The UN staff who sought refuge in the compound`s secure bunker then were evacuated to the secure military base and airport complex across the street, said Ben Parker, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia.
Two South Africans from the company Denel Mechem who were doing demining work for the UN died in the attack, said Vuyelwa Qinga, a spokeswoman for Denel, a manufacturer of defense equipment.
A UN official who insisted on anonymity because he was not an official spokesman said he believed two UN personnel from Kenya and Somalia were also killed.
"There was not very much time to get into the safe area," said Parker. The top UN official on Somalia, Nicholas Kay, also works out of the building but was not inside the compound when it was attacked. Kay said he was shocked and horrified by the attack.
"The United Nations Common Compound houses UN personnel working on humanitarian and development issues for the Somali people. This was an act of blatant terrorism and a desperate attempt to knock Somalia off its path of recovery and peace building," said Kay.
A UN statement said it was verifying its casualty numbers. "There are certainly some injured and most likely worse," it said.
Speaking to the UN Security Council today, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson called the attack outrageous and said the UN remains committed to achieving peace and keeping Somalia on its path to recovery.
At 11:30 am the compound was rocked by the car bomb blast that blew down the compound`s front gate. At least two other blasts followed, Parker said.