An “Islamist military officer” connected with the Union of Islamic Courts recently said: “War is imminent. There is no other alternative.” With such brazen attacks in and around Baidoa, the jihadists may now be attempting to provoke Ethiopia into commencing military action on a larger scale, for which it will then be held up as the aggressive party in jihadist propaganda.
Somali Jihad Update. “Somalia on the brink as suicide attack hits government seat,” by Mustafa Haji Abdinur for AFP:
MOGADISHU (AFP) – Somalia teetered on the brink of all-out war after an Islamist-claimed suicide attack on the seat of government, and neighboring Ethiopia’s decision to authorize action against any Islamist incursion.
Islamist commanders in Mogadishu and the Bay region where Baidoa is located said the attack was aimed at an Ethiopian military position and that between 24 and 40 Ethiopian soldiers had been killed.
“There were two suicide cars full of explosives,” Somali police commander General Ali Hussein told AFP, adding that 12 people were killed in the blasts, including one of his officers, the bombers and occupants of a nearby vehicle.
He denied any Ethiopian troops had been involved, saying that aside from the police officer and the bombers, the other casualties were all Somali civilians.
Witnesses at the scene, however, said they believed the death toll was higher and insisted only one car had actually detonated, destroying two other vehicles.
“The suiciders were only using one car, the other two cars were victims of the blast,” said Mukhtar Hassan, who lives near the Boynunay checkpoint.
“I was near the checkpoint and before we knew what was going there was some kind of fire and then a huge blast from a Toyota Mark II,” he told AFP.
The checkpoint is closely guarded by Somali authorities who keep close watch on those entering and leaving Baidoa, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of Mogadishu and the only town held by the weak national government.
Security has been tight there since a failed mid-September attempt to assassinate Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, which was believed to be Somalia’s first-ever suicide attack.
The government has blamed the September 18 incident on the Islamists, who denied responsibility but have since declared holy war on Ethiopian troops protecting the government.
Actually, Somali’s top Islamic Leader, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, called for jihad against Ethiopia in July.
General Hussein said the car had been driven to Baidoa from Mogadishu but made no further comment about who might have been behind the attack.
The Islamist commander in Bay region, Mohamed Ibrahim Said Bilal, told AFP the attack was the work of “Islamic suicide bombers” and claimed that some 40 people had been killed.
There was no immediate reaction from government officials or from Addis Ababa.
The attack came hours after the Ethiopian parliament adopted a resolution that called the Islamists a “clear and present danger” and authorised the government to take “any legal action against any invasion coming to our country.”
The vote followed an earlier Islamist-claimed attack on an Ethiopian military convoy outside Baidoa and a day after the Islamists accused Ethiopia of shelling a town they hold near the border.
It also came after worried diplomats at the United Nations called on all nations to respect an 1992 arms embargo on Somalia amid reports of massive military build-ups by the rival parties with embargo violations by 10 nations.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denied rejected opposition concerns that the parliamentary resolution was tantamount to a declaration of war, saying it gave the government leeway to deal with the Islamists, who he accuses of colluding with arch-foe Eritrea to destabilize Ethiopia.
“From Asmara to Mogadishu they have created a common front on two legs, and in the middle are the Ethiopian groups, forces armed trying to dismantle Ethiopia,” he told lawmakers before the vote.