MOGADISHU, May 24- Somalia’s Shebab rebels launched a brazen attack on the national parliament Saturday, setting off a car bomb and storming the building with suicide commandos, leaving at least eight dead, police and witnesses said.
Security sources said the “complex attack” — involving bombs and gunmen with suicide vests — was finally brought to an end after four hours by Somali security forces and African Union troops.
No official death toll was immediately given but police said at least four attackers were killed, and AFP reporters at the scene also counted four dead security guards.
Witnesses said Shebab militants, the Al Qaeda linked group fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally backed but fragile government, stormed into the complex in central Mogadishu while scores of MPs were meeting inside.
A huge car bomb went off outside the gates of the parliament shortly before midday, and a string of smaller blasts followed by intense gunfire were heard coming from inside.
A spokesman for Shebab confirmed the group was responsible.
“The so-called Somali parliament is a military zone. Our fighters are there to carry out a holy operation,” Shebab’s military spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, told AFP by telephone.
AFP reporters at the scene said a number of people were wounded. Officials said at least two MPs were hurt and taken to hospital.
“I was shocked when I heard the blasts and a gunbattle. I had to run for my life,” a female Somali MP said after escaping the battle.
Recent Shebab attacks have targeted key areas of government, or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities that they are winning the war against the Islamist fighters.
– PM condemns ‘cowardly, despicable actions’ –
Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement that all MPs were accounted for and the attack was under investigation, but praised the “swift response of Somali National Army and AMISOM security forces.”
“The terrorists have once again shown that they are against all Somalis, by killing our innocent brothers and sisters. These cowardly, despicable actions are not a demonstration of the true Islamic faith,” he added.
The UN’s top envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, also condemned the “attack against the people of Somalia for which there can be no justification”.
The parliament attack appeared to be a repeat of an assault on February against the heavily-fortified presidential palace, which saw a car bomb go off at the gates of the Villa Somalia followed by an attack by suicide gunmen which left at least 16 dead including the attackers.
In that attack, the Shebab gunmen were dressed in police and military uniforms.
Last month two Somali MPs were also assassinated by the Shebab in shooting and bomb attacks inside Mogadishu, and the Shebab said they hoped to kill all MPs “one by one”.
The Shebab, who also claimed responsibility for the September 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall in which at least 67 people were killed, have carried out a string of other high-profile attacks in Mogadishu this year.
Hardline Shebab insurgents once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, including large parts of the capital, but were driven out of fixed positions in Mogadishu and Somalia’s major towns by a 22,000-strong African Union force.
AU troops launched a fresh offensive in March against Shebab bases, and although they seized a series of towns, the insurgents are thought to have fled in advance and suffered few casualties.