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Suicide attack kills minister in Somalia

A SUICIDE bombing outside a hotel in western Somalia killed at least 20 people yesterday including the national security minister. The Somali president blamed al-Qaida while an extremist group with alleged links to the terror network claimed responsibility.

Witness Mohamed Nur said a small car headed toward the gate of the Medina Hotel in Belet Weyne, then drove into vehicles leaving the hotel and exploded.

Information Minister Farhan Ali Mohamud announced the death of National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden but did not give other details.

Somalia's president accused al-Qaida of being behind the bombing, which he said also killed a senior Somali diplomat.

"It was an act of terrorism and it is part of the terrorist attack on our people," Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed told journalists in the capital. "Al-Qaida is attacking us."

Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage told local radio stations by phone that his group carried out the attack and that one of their fighters died.

"We killed the national security minister and the former ambassador to Ethiopia," said Rage, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Al-Shabab, an extremist Islamist group in Somalia, has denied a link with al-Qaida.

The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring al-Qaida-linked terrorists who allegedly blew up US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The US has attempted to kill suspected al-Qaida members in Somalia several times with airstrikes.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 18 years after warlords overthrew a longtime dictator and plunged the country into anarchy and chaos.

The lawlessness has also allowed piracy to thrive off the country's coast, making Somalia the world's worst piracy hotspot.

Islamic insurgents have been trying to topple Somalia's weak government for more than two years. There was a surge of violence in May, during which almost 200 people were killed.

The United Nations says the conflict has displaced more than 122,000 people.



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