The Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility Thursday for a mortar attack outside the presidential palace during a handover ceremony for the country’s new leader, a sign of the enormous security challenges he faces in trying to develop this long-chaotic country.
The blasts were heard during the ceremony for President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, cited al-Shabab posts on Twitter that “there is news of losses.” There was no immediate word from government officials on any deaths.
Farmajo, who also holds U.S. citizenship, was elected and sworn in Feb. 8. Securing a country that remains under threat of deadly attacks by al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, is a top challenge.
While the extremist group has been pushed out of most of its key strongholds, it continues to carry out deadly attacks in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
Recent targets have included hotels and checkpoints manned by Somalia’s security forces or the multinational African Union peacekeeping mission that has been trying to stabilize this Horn of Africa country.
Fears of al-Shabab attacks were a factor in delaying this month’s presidential election multiple times since last year. On the eve of the election, two mortar rounds fired by suspected extremists hit near the voting venue, a heavily guarded former air force base.
The election of Farmajo and the peaceful transfer of power have been seen as a key step toward having Somalia’s first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. The country began to fall apart in 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Somalia is now an increasingly important partner for the U.S. military on counterterrorism efforts, including drone strikes against al-Shabab leaders.