Mogadishu: A spokesman for Somalia`s hardline al Shabaab rebels denied on Friday that the group was behind a suicide bombing at a medical graduation ceremony in the capital that killed at least 22 people.
Three government ministers died in Thursday`s blast, and suspicion had immediately fallen on the insurgent group, which is fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
"We declare that al Shabaab did not mastermind that explosion ... we believe it is a plot by the government itself," al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters. "It is not in the nature of al Shabaab to target innocent people."
Rage said there had long been deep political rifts between senior officials in Somalia`s Western-backed government.
"You know there is a power struggle ... that has been going on a long time," he said.
"We know that some so-called government officials left the scene of the explosion just minutes before the attack. That is why it is clear that they were behind the killing."
Washington says al Shabaab, the only Somali rebel group to have launched suicide attacks in the past, is al Qaeda`s proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state.
Witnesses said Thursday`s bombing at a hotel in the capital was carried out by a man disguised as a veiled woman.
He entered the ceremony, packed with graduates of Benadir University`s medical school, their parents and government officials before approaching the podium and blowing himself up.