Somali suicide bombs kill nine in 'revenge' attack

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Rebels hit the African Union's main base in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, with two suicide car bombs yesterday, killing at least nine people days after a vow to avenge the killing of a leasing al-Qa'ida suspect by US commandos.

A spokesman for the Al-Shabaab militant group said the attacks were its response to the assassination of Kenyan-born Salah Ali Saleh Nabhan. "We have got revenge for our brother," he said.

Farah Hassan, a witness, said two UN-marked vehicles drove into the AU base followed by two pick-up trucks carrying government troops. "We thought they were real UN cars carrying white people, but moments later deafening thunder shook the ground," he added. "The area was covered with flames and clouds of smoke."

Among the dead were Somalis who had been receiving medical treatment at the well-guarded AU base. Government officials were meeting representatives of the African Union peacekeeping mission there at the time.

Hospital sources said at least seven more people died in artillery battles that broke out after the blasts. A Somali government source said a senior officer of the AU force was among the dead and its commander was slightly wounded.

The bombings, which proved the insurgents' ability to attack the heart of the peacekeeping mission, might deter some African nations, including Nigeria and Djibouti, that have agreed in principle to send reinforcements. So far, Uganda and Burundi are the only ones to have sent soldiers.