Somali rebels attack UN base, 22 killed

The assault, claimed by Islamist group al Shabaab, began before midday when a car bomb exploded.

Islamist militants attack the main UN compound in Mogadishu, killing 22 people. Picture: Nathan Adams/EWN"

MOGADISHU - Islamist militants carried out a deadly assault on the main UN compound in the Somali capital on Wednesday, dealing a blow to fragile security gains that have allowed a slow return of foreign aid workers and diplomats.

The assault, claimed by Islamist group al Shabaab, began before midday when a car bomb exploded outside the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) base. Rebel gunmen forced their way into the compound and fought with security guards.

The African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, which sent soldiers and armoured vehicles to the compound, which includes several buildings, said it was under the control of friendly troops after a gun fight that lasted more than 90 minutes.

Interior Minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled said four foreign UN security staff and four local guards were killed in the gun battle that left seven insurgent fighters dead.

An ambulance service official said his crew carried away seven dead civilians, bringing the total dead to 22.

It was the first significant attack on UN premises by al Shabaab since they were driven out of Mogadishu in fighting with AU and Somali government forces about two years ago.

More than a million Somalis live in crisis conditions, according to the United Nations, which has started building up offices and international staff after security improved.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "outraged by the despicable attack" in a telephone call to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Al Shabaab accused the United Nations of serving US interests.

"The UN, a merchant of death and a satanic force of evil, has a long, inglorious record of spreading nothing but poverty, dependency and disbelief," al Shabaab said on its Twitter feed @HSMPRESS1

The South African state weapons firm Denel said two of its staff were killed in the raid. Militants have launched grenade strikes and similar low-level attacks on UN bases in the past, but no assault of this scale.