Somalia

Somalia death toll rises to 30, suspects held

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By Abdiqani Hassan

BOSASSO, Somalia, Oct 30 (Reuters) - North Somali authorities said on Thursday they had arrested a prominent local sheikh and others suspected of involvement in a wave of suicide attacks that killed at least 30 people.

There was still no clear claim of responsibility for the five bombs in Puntland and Somaliland regions on Wednesday.

But suspicion has fallen on Islamist insurgents fighting the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies. Local militant group al Shabaab posted a video of a suicide bomber on the Internet but did not explicitly link it to the attacks.

The United States blamed al Qaeda, which it says works through Shabaab, for the attacks that overshadowed a summit in Kenya to discuss the 17-year-long conflict in Somalia.

Medical staff in Bosasso port, in semi-autonomous Puntland, said two soldiers wounded by one of the car bombs, at an intelligence headquarters, died overnight, bringing to at least five the victims of that strike.

Puntland officials said they arrested a local cleric, Sheikh Mohamud Ismail. "Soldiers attacked our house and opened fire on us. They injured my uncle in the arm and then took him away," relative Abdishakur Mire said, confirming the arrest.

In Somaliland, authorities said they had made "several" arrests but declined to give more details. Interior Minister Abdillahi Ismail said the blasts were planned from Mogadishu.

Twenty people died at Ethiopia's embassy in Hargeisa, capital of the breakaway Somaliland region, and at least five were killed in synchronised blasts at the local president's office and a U.N. building there.

Two of the dead were U.N. staff members, a driver and a security adviser. Six staff members were also injured in the blast that blew off the roofs of the U.N. compound.

"While Somalia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers, Hargeisa has been relatively stable and consequently many United Nations staff were stationed there," said U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden.

"FIRE, SWORD AND BOMBS"

Shabaab posted a 30-minute video on Islamist websites on Thursday containing the last testament of a suicide bomber identified as Abdel Aziz Saad. The video identified him as the "ninth" suicide bomber, without giving more details.

In the clips, a young fighter also calls on Muslims to defend Islam and expel foreigners including African Union troops and Ethiopians from Somalia. "The only language they understand is the language of fire, sword and bombs," he says.

There was widespread international condemnation of the blasts which came as political momentum was gathering for a U.N. -brokered peace plan to bring moderate opposition members into government. The process has had little impact on the ground.

Both Somaliland and Puntland had been relatively quiet in recent months compared with the south. The coordinated blasts would mark a return north for al Shabaab -- where its members were blamed for some attacks on aid workers several years ago -- if it is confirmed the group was behind them.

The violence in Somalia has killed nearly 10,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and forced more than a million from their homes, triggering a humanitarian crisis aid workers say is one of the worst -- and most neglected -- in the world.

The government of Somaliland, which has declared the region independent and prides itself on maintaining greater stability than south Somalia, poured soldiers onto the streets and rounded people up in hotels and the airport in search of suspects.

In Kenya, which has in the past suffered attacks planned from Somali soil, a government office warned its staff of a planned al Qaeda attack before the U.S. election.

A memo by the revenue authority said it received information militants were planning to attack "vital installations" in Kenya and Uganda such as petrol stations, tankers and airports.

The government said it was on alert. Adding to tensions, police said they arrested three people with wire detonators on a bus heading to north Kenya, near the border with Somalia.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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