Mogadishu - Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for shooting dead a lawmaker and his bodyguard on Thursday, the latest in a surge of attacks in Mogadishu during Islam's holy month of Ramadaan.
“This was a targeted assassination,” al-Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP.
A witness said MP Ahmed Mohamud Hayd, a former minister and a senior army commander, was killed in the capital's port district, one of the most heavily policed areas in the heart of the city.
“We will continue to hunt other MPs if they do not leave the apostate organisation,” Abu Musab added, referring to parliament.
Gunmen in a car opened fire on the lawmakers as they left a hotel, spraying bullets at the small group of people.
A government official was wounded, while a second MP escaped unharmed, the United Nations said, contradicting initial al-Shabaab boasts to have also wounded the lawmaker.
The district is close to both parliament and the presidential palace.
“The gunmen were driving in an expensive car and escaped after the killing. Police and other security forces sealed off the area,” said Abdi Liban, a witness.
The al-Shabaab have vowed to intensify attacks during Ramadaan.
“They were going to attend a parliament session when they have come under attack. One of the lawmakers was confirmed dead,” fellow MP Abdi Bare Yusuf told reporters after the attack.
Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed condemned the “abhorrent” attack.
“We condemn this and any other murders, especially during the holy month of Ramadaan,” Ahmed said in a statement.
“Islam does not support the killing of innocents, brothers slaying brothers.”
UN envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said that “to commit such callous crimes during the holy month demonstrates how little regard the perpetrators have for the Somali people.”
al-Shabaab fighters fled fixed positions in Mogadishu three years ago and have since lost most large towns to a 22 000-strong UN-backed African Union force, fighting alongside government soldiers.
But they still hold sway in vast swathes of the rural hinterland from which they regularly launch guerrilla raids.
Recent al-Shabaab attacks in Somalia have targeted key areas of government and security forces in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities and AU troops that they are winning the war.
Five blasts were reported on Monday, including a roadside bomb that killed at least two people when it ripped through a market busy with shoppers buying food to celebrate the breaking of the Ramadaan fast with their families at sunset.
Security has been boosted in the capital, and Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud gave a televised address at the start of Ramadaan saying his government would do all it could to stop attacks.
Foreign diplomats say the al-Shabaab threaten several nations in East Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, who all have troops in Somalia.
The US embassy in Uganda warned on Thursday of a “specific threat” by an unknown group to attack the international airport serving the capital Kampala.
The al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the assault on the Westgate shopping centre that killed at least 67 people in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in September last year as well as for two nighttime attacks on the Kenyan coast last month that killed around 60 people.
The attacks come amid repeated warnings that Somalia risks sliding back into acute crisis less than three years after a devastating famine caused by weak rains, violence and aid cutbacks.
Somalia was the hardest hit by extreme drought in 2011 that affected over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa, with famine zones declared in large parts of the war-ravaged south. - AFP