, MOGADISHU, July 8 – Somalia’s Islamist Shabaab rebels launched a major bomb attack and armed assault against the country’s presidential palace late Tuesday, penetrating the heavily fortified complex and fighting a major gunbattle with security guards.
Security sources said Somalia’s internationally backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was unharmed and safe with guards from the African Union’s 22,000 strong AMISOM force.
“There was an attack on the presidential palace, with gunmen attacking a checkpoint at the rear of the compound,” police officer Ali Hussein told AFP. “There was a major explosion and security forces are fighting them.”
A Shabaab spokesman said the Al Qaeda linked group was behind the attack, and claim their commandos had managed to seize the president’s office inside the presidential compound known as the Villa Somalia.
“Our commandos are inside the so called presidential office,” Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP. “We are in control of the headquarters of the apostate regime.”
“The enemy suffered high casualties during the operation, which is ongoing. The assault is a victory for us since the foreign installed government said that security was beefed up,” he added.
Witnesses said there was heavy gunfire and several blasts believed to be from grenades.
“Bullets are flying around coming from the palace,” said Halimo Nure, who lives close to the compound, one of the most heavily defended areas of the city. “There is shooting and gunfire, there are also explosions like they are using grenades.”
The attack appeared to be a repeat of a Shabaab assault against the presidential palace in February. In May the Islamist insurgents also launched a similar attack against the national parliament.