Mogadishu - A suicide bomber on Tuesday detonated explosives outside the prime minister's home in Somalia's presidential palace compound, killing two people, security officials said.
Al-Qaeda-linked militants claimed responsibility for the attack.
The man blew himself up in the morning when questioned by soldiers at a checkpoint in the palace complex known as Villa Somalia, said Mohamed Ali, a police officer at the official residence in Mogadishu, the capital.
Villa Somalia has a large compound with several buildings and checkpoints. The bomber was four more checkpoints away from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's home, Ali said. The president is said to be out of the country on state business.
The checkpoint where the blast took place is near the home of Prime Minister's Abdi Farah Shirdon, which is also in the compound, according to officials. Shirdon was at home but was not harmed, according to an official from the palace who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorised to speak with the press.
Shirdon later released a statement read by Somalia's information minister saying one soldier was killed in the attack and the attacker is believed to be an operative of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgent group. “This inhumane and barbaric attack shows once again the cruel twisted ideology of killing and destruction by the al-Shabaab,” Shirdon said.
Al-Shabaab announced that it was behind the attack.
“One of our martyrs from the martyrdom brigade has carried out a successful attack on a house occupied by the intelligence apostates in the presidential palace,” Sheik Abdiaziz Abu-Musab, the military spokesperson for the Islamist militant group, told reporters.
He claimed the bomber killed seven soldiers. However, a military officer at the palace, Yusuf Abdi, said two soldiers died and three others were wounded in the explosion, backing what Ali had said.
“He killed two people and himself on the spot. His evil attempt has failed,” Ali said.
Al-Shabaab has opposed President Mohamud's election and government, saying the administration was being manipulated by Western powers. The president survived an assassination attempt on his second day in office in September when two suicide bombers blew themselves up while trying to gain access to a heavily guarded hotel serving as his temporary residence.
Mohamud, 56, who was previously an academic and activist, is expected to form the county's first functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
Since 2004, Somalia had been represented by a UN-approved leadership structure called the Transitional Federal Government that until recently only controlled small parts of Mogadishu. That government accomplished little, but since African Union and Somali troops pushed al-Shabaab extremists out of the capital and other areas in the past two years, there's renewed hope for stability.
International supporters say Mohamud's government is a step toward moving the country out of its failed-state status, but that much more remains to be done in a country bloodied by two decades of war. In a sign of progress, the United States last week officially recognised the Somali government for the first time since Barre's fall in 1991.
Mohamud faces an uphill task unifying a fractious country in the face of the Islamist radicals' insurgency. Much of Somalia's infrastructure is in ruins, and corruption is rampant. - Sapa-AP