MOGADISHU, Apr 4 – A young woman strapped with explosives blew herself up Wednesday at a ceremony in the Somali national theatre, killing the country’s Olympic and football bosses.
She detonated her suicide belt as Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was on a podium addressing 200 people gathered to mark the first anniversary of the country’s satellite TV network, an AFP reporter who witnessed the incident said.
Several witnesses said Somali Olympic Committee president Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were killed in the blast.
The prime minister, and seven other ministers standing beside him when the young woman set off her explosives, were unharmed.
“The bodies of the two people killed in the blast have been taken by the Somali police,” police officer Mohamed Abdi told AFP.
Seconds after the blast, chaos filled the venue as the dead and the wounded could be seen slumped on their chairs and lying on the floor while police escorted some of the injured to awaiting ambulances.
Somalia’s Chinese-built national theatre was re-opened last month by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and the prime minister for the first time in 20 years.
The two killed officials had last week inspected the reconstruction of the national stadium in Mogadishu, a city which had slowly been coming back to life since Somali and African Union forces secured most of it late last year.
“When this construction completes and the security has fully been tightened we will be able to host international matches here in Mogadishu,” Nur had said in a statement.
Somalia’s deputy sports minister had said people were eager to “benefit from the peaceful atmosphere” in Mogadishu and his minister had praised all those who had been killed or wounded in recent years while promoting Somali sports.
The stadium was previously used by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels as a training centre, turning the pitch into a firing range to test homemade armour piercing bullets.
But last year, Western-backed African Union troops seized the stadium and used it as a forward base for assaults on rebel holdouts before turning it over to the government for restoration as a sports venue.
Despite the lull in street fighting, Mogadishu has been plagued by a series of suicide and grenade attacks since the Shebab rebels abandoned fixed bases in August and reverted to guerrilla tactics.
A suicide bomber last month killed at least five people in an attack at the heavily guarded presidential palace, which the hardline Shebab militia claimed.
The Shebab carried out their deadliest suicide attack in October 2011 when a bomber rammed an explosives-laded vehicle into a government compound, killing at least 82 people.
Ethiopia and Kenya have deployed troops to southern regions of the war-torn nation to crush the Shebab, who have waged bloody battles to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government, allowing armed groups, pirates and extremists rebels to thrive and establish control in vast regions.