Mogadishu — In reaction to the suicide commando attack on the Somali parliament building at the weekend, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed declared an "all-out war" against al-Shabaab.
"I order the Somali National Army to 'move now' to eliminate the enemy wherever they are in the country -- we must eradicate this enemy from our country," he said in a press conference Saturday (May 24th) after the attack.
"We cannot tolerate that the enemy carries out such attacks on our people -- we must all take part in the war," Ahmed said, urging the Somali people to help the army eliminate the enemy.
Al-Shabaab's attack on the parliament building was planned similarly to previous attacks on Villa Somalia, the United Nations compound and Mogadishu's main court complex.
Shortly before noon Saturday, the group set off a car bomb outside the front gate of the parliament building, then gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed into the complex, where more than 150 lawmakers were in session.
A string of smaller blasts and gunfire could be heard from inside as Somali security forces and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops fought off the commandos for more than four hours before bringing the firefight to an end.
Half an hour into the attack, security forces succeeded in evacuating all but three lawmakers who were rushed to hospital with gunshot wounds. The parliamentarians were evacuated through a door facing the Ministry of Information, where they gathered until the situation was brought under control.
No overall death toll was immediately given but official sources said 10 people were confirmed dead.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack and warned that more would follow.
"We urge you to ask for forgiveness from God, to repent from the [wrong] path you are on," said al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage, addressing the members of parliament.
Rage, also known as Ali Dheere, said the legislative, judiciary and executive branches of government were a hoax not permissible under Islamic principles.
"We warn you once, twice, three times... If you reject [the warning], the mujahedeen will come after you," he said. "They will wait for you on the corners of buildings and alleys; they will wait for you on the streets. God willing you will not find a place to escape."
'Enemy to the Somali people'
The attack received widespread condemnation from Somali, AMISOM and UN officials, who also praised the security forces for their swift response.
"The terrorists have once again shown today that they are an enemy to the Somali people and the nation by continuing to kill our innocent brothers and sisters," Prime Minister Ahmed said. "These cowardly actions have no basis in our religion of Islam."
"The military operations that the national armed forces and AMISOM are engaged in against these enemies of peace will be doubled down so that the enemies of the people of Somalia will be eliminated nationwide," he said.
"These attacks show that al-Shabaab simply do not care about the plight of innocent Somalis," said Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia, Ambassador Mahamat Saleh Annadif.
"Yet again they are bent on their own selfish purpose and show no respect for the well-being of ordinary people. And the failure of their attack once again evidences the futility of their actions."
UN Special Representative to Somalia Nicholas Kay said he was "appalled" by the attack.
"The federal parliament represents the people of Somalia and their hopes and aspirations for a peaceful and stable future," he said. "Today's attack is an attack against the people of Somalia for which there can be no justification."
Kay commended "the prompt action by the Somalia national security forces and AMISOM in responding to the incident" and said the UN would continue to support the Somali people and government.
For his part, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari said, "These enemies will never derail us from our twin goals of achieving peace and progress in Somalia: two brave goals, which though they may fight against, they will never have victory."
National security minister resigns; many say 'not enough'
Hours after the attack, Somali Minister of National Security Abdikarim Hussein Guled resigned from his post after 20 months in office, serving under two prime ministers.
Guled had come under attack in recent months over a few high-profile al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu, and just last week lawmakers tabled a no-confidence motion against him.
Lawmaker Feisal Omar Guled said the resignation of the national security minister was not enough. "It is not something that will satisfy us and we are not satisfied," he said.
"The police and intelligence chiefs have to be held accountable. Clear evidence has to be found for why several important government centres have been attacked by al-Shabaab with ease such as the presidential palace, the headquarters of the court and the UN complex for which no official evidence was produced," he said.
Deputy Chairman of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa's executive committee Sheikh Ahmed Abdullahi Ilkaase also said Guled's resignation falls short of what is needed to strengthen the national security apparatus.
"The resignation of the minister will not affect Somalia's security needs or change the poor policies and management of the government's agencies because the problem is in several places," he told Sabahi, adding that parliament itself is part of the problem.
"Parliament constitutes an obstacle for security because it has yet to ensure soldiers receive their compensation [regularly] and because they continue dragging their feet on the anti-terrorism law that would provide strict guidelines to entrap these terrorists who are inflicting pain on the population," he said.
"All praise is due to God who saved us from the al-Shabaab attack on us," said Zainab Mohamed Amir, one of the lawmakers present inside the chamber when the attack occurred, adding that the Ministry of National Security has failed to meets its obligations.
"Our problem is that the ministry that is responsible for security does not seem capable to do the work [needed] to ensure security," she told Sabahi. "A year ago the country's security was not like this. Now things are getting worse and security is getting out of hand."
Holding security agencies accountable:
Director of the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies Abdi Aynte said the attack on parliament indicated that the security agencies have failed.
"The second biggest symbol of the national government is the parliament aside from the presidential compound," he told Sabahi. "The presidential compound was attacked in February, and now the House of Representatives has been attacked after three months. This shows that the security agencies have failed in their responsibilities."
He said the security officials responsible should be "held accountable to the highest degree".
"If they cannot fulfil their duties, they have to [step down]," he said, adding that AMISOM should not be blamed for any neglect in security.
"It is not AMISOM's responsibility to serve as a police force for the government of Somalia," he said. "Police duties and ensuring public safety are the responsibility of national security agencies. AMISOM's responsibility is to help the government and the Somali people in trying to regain control of places that were not in the government's control."
Aynte encouraged the Somali public on their part to hold the government accountable so that a dependable security can be attained.
"It is important to note that three months ago when the presidential compound was attacked, a cabinet committee was assigned to investigate the events that took place and then to report back to the government and the public," he said. "More than ninety days have elapsed since that committee was appointed. I think the same thing should not happen [again]."