Somali President survives as convoy attack kills 11

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The Independent Online

The President of Somalia's weak, transitional government survived an assassination attempt yesterday, which killed at least 11 people, including his brother.

President Abdullahi Yusuf had been travelling to his residence in the western town of Baidoa, where the UN-backed government is based, when a car bomb exploded as his convoy passed.

Mr Yusuf escaped unharmed, but his brother was among the dead. Eight cars were destroyed by the blast, including three that were in the President's convoy.

Somalia's Foreign Minister, Ismail Hurre Buba, said the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qa'ida, although he offered no evidence for the connection. He said he believed the explosion was the first suicide bomb attack in Somalia's history.

The attack came as MPs met to approve the new cabinet and to discuss whether the government should share power with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which took control of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia in June. It is likely to raise tensions between the UIC and the government, which holds little sway outside Baidoa.

Peace talks held in Khartoum are set to restart on 30 October. Earlier this month the government and the UIC agreed to form a joint national police force and army. "It will jeopardise the peace process if it becomes very obvious that the Islamists are behind this terrorist act," said Mr Hurre.

The bomb blast took place a day after an Italian nun and her Somali bodyguard were shot dead in Mogadishu. Some analysts linked Sister Leonella's death to the recent comments made by the Pope about Islam, although Mr Hurre claimed those responsible for the attack on Mr Yusuf were likely to have carried out both.

It is not the first time that Somalia's government has come under attack. The Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, survived two assassination attempts last year, while a cabinet minister, Abdallah Isaaq Deerow, was shot dead in Baidoa in July.

Despite backing from the international community, the transitional government is virtually powerless. Reports that Somalia's long-standing enemy, Ethiopia, has sent troops across the border to support the government has done nothing to win it popular support.

It is the 14th attempt at creating a central government since the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.