Somalia's al-Shabab militants have claimed responsibility for a complex attack Saturday on the country's parliament building. At least eight people were killed in the attack, though the number could rise.
Officials say the militants set off a car bomb at the main gate of the parliament complex in central Mogadishu, where members of parliament were meeting. Witnesses say the blast was followed by several smaller explosions and gunfire.
Member of Parliament Hussein Arab Isse tells VOA members were listening to a speech on the floor of the assembly hall when the attack began.
“All of a sudden we just heard a loud, loud bang and a minute later the gunfight ensued and then we all tried to get out and thank God, most of us made it out,” Isse said.
Isse said he and fellow lawmakers were able to escape by breaking through a back wall of the dilapidated parliament building, still being repaired following years of warfare that destroyed much of the city.
Silas Ntigurirwa, force commander for the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, speaking from the scene of the attack, said all the lawmakers made it out alive and that the situation is under AMISOM control.
The attack resembles another in February targeting the presidential compound in Mogadishu, known as Villa Somalia, in which at least 12 people were killed, including the attackers.
Isse, who is also the chair of Somalia's Defense Committee, said security officials have known for weeks of a potential attack on parliament.
“The internal security committee gave a report that the parliament was going to be the next target and something was going to happen in the near future and we need to do something about it, we need to tighten security, and apparently it wasn't taken seriously,” Isse said.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed praised the response of the Somali National Army and African Union peacekeepers against what he called a “cowardly attack”
United Nations special envoy to Somalia, Nick Kay, called the incident “an attack against the people of Somalia for which there can be no justification.”
The militants have been pushed out of their major strongholds in Mogadishu and southern and central Somalia during the past three years under military pressure from Somali and AU forces.
But the group has continued to launch targeted attack in Somalia and has also vowed to turn more of its attention to neighboring Kenya.