String of bomb attacks in Somalia’s capital empties beach restaurants, holds back progress
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Isaq Ahmed lifted his head from his hands, his eyes clouded with
tears, as he looked at the crowd gathered near the twisted wreckage from
a car bomb blast that ripped open buildings and killed at least seven
people in Somalia’s capital this week.
As smoke filled the air, the 30-year-old car washer recalled
another suicide blast that rocked a restaurant last year where he also
works and killed more than 15 people.
“I’d been feeling that peace was almost achieved, but I was wrong,”
the grief-stricken Ahmed said before shuffling off to wash another car,
despite the destruction nearby. “I don’t think I can keep working,
because horrible images and agony are really weighing me down.”
has seen a relative period of peace the last 18 months, after African
Union troops forced al-Shabab militants out of the city in August 2011.
The city has moved past a recent history of running street battles
involving mortars, rockets and tanks.
But a recent series of
suicide blasts has residents worried that Mogadishu’s version of peace
will be upended by regular bombings.
An al-Shabab suicide car bomb
attacker targeting a convoy with Mogadishu’s intelligence chief rammed
his vehicle into a civilian bus on Monday, killing at least seven people
and wounding the intelligence chief.
In early March, a suicide
bomber detonated explosives inside a seaside restaurant in Somalia’s
capital, killing himself and one diner. In mid-February a bomber
attacked a restaurant next to the Indian Ocean; only the bomber was
The African Union forces’ ousting of the al-Qaida-linked
fighters from the capital and surrounding regions brought back to life
Mogadishu’s seaside for the first time in 20 years. Schools, shops and
markets have reopened. The city government has repaired potholed streets
and installed streetlights. Turkish Airlines now makes weekly flights,
the first time in decades a reputable international carrier has regular
Mogadishu has also seen a revival in the arts,
sports and business over the last year. Residents dance at weddings. New
restaurants have opened, and construction is up. But the violence is
holding back progress.
Beach-goers once flocked to Mogadishu’s
sandy shores. On a recent morning, dozens of people strolled along the
waterfront, dipping their feet in the water, but the nearby restaurants
were mostly empty.
“Because of the attacks, our business has
suffered a sharp decline,” said Hassan Ali, a manager at a beachfront
restaurant in Mogadishu called Village close to where the restaurant
attacks took place. “More than 50 percent of our customers haven’t
returned after the attack. It’s hugely damaging to our earnings.”
and on the defensive, al-Shabab are still battling the African Union
forces, but the group has resorted to roadside bombs, suicide attacks
and assassinations, instead of infantry street battles which cause high
“What’s happening is a setback to the security gains
in Somalia by the government,” said Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, a Somali
political analyst. “But in comparison to what has been achieved thus far
in terms of security, what is happening is merely a hiccup, rather than
a game changer in the long run.”
Somalia’s prime minister said this week that the attacks will have no long-term effect.
“We have made far too much progress to regress to the bad old days,” said Abdi Farah Shirdon.
in another worrying security sign, al-Shabab fighters in the last week
recaptured Hudur, a town in southwestern Somalia, after Ethiopian and
Somali troops left it. The retreat has raised fears that the Ethiopian
troops who control several towns in western Somalia will make a more
“They (al-Shabab) have greeted us with
beheadings of two residents upon their arrival,” said Ali Daud, a
resident in Hudur, by phone. “We don’t know why the Ethiopians have made
that surprise departure.”
Hassan Yaqub, a member of al-Shabab,
said: “If the Ethiopian Christians have abandoned two towns for now,
then why don’t you expect more territorial gains?”