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Suicide Bombing Targets Major Turkish Military Base in Somalia

Suicide Bombing Targets Major Turkish Military Base in Somalia

Suicide Bombing Targets Major Turkish Military Base in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Two people were killed after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside Turkey’s largest overseas military base in Mogadishu on Tuesday, Somali officials said, the latest reminder of Somalia’s struggle to curb the deadly attacks that have haunted the country for years.

The attack, which bears the hallmarks of the Shabab terrorist group, was carried out just before 9 a.m. as recruits lined up for enlistment at Camp Turksom, where hundreds of Somali soldiers are trained and the new enrollment of dozens was underway.

The bomber posed as a potential recruit, but when he refused to respond to the commands of guards, they shot at him, authorities said. The explosion killed one recruit and a bystander, said a Somali government spokesman, Ismael Mukhtar Omar.

A website linked to the Shabab reported that the group had taken responsibility for the attack, and the terrorist organization has previously carried out similar attacks against the Somali government and Turkish interests in Somalia.

“The process of the recruitment was not a secret,” Mr. Omar said, “And the soldiers who were vigilant about this sort of attack did their duty when he refused their orders.”

The military facility, which opened in 2017 and reportedly cost $50 million, is part of an effort by Turkey to increase its foothold and influence in the Horn of Africa. The country’s defense ministry called the attack “vile” and said none of its personnel was harmed in the attack.

Located along on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the base provides training for Somalia’s national military force, with the goal of rebuilding the military and reinforcing the government’s waning authority across the country.

Somalia’s army disintegrated after the country’s 1991 civil war, when clan-based militias overthrew the government of the longtime dictator Siad Barre before turning on each other.

Besides Turkey, the United States has hundreds of Special Operations forces training the Somali army and conducting kill-or-capture raids of their own against the Shabab. Gulf nations, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, have also vied for influence in Somalia, providing support to various regional security forces.

Over the past thirteen years, the western-backed government has relied on the support of African Union forces to battle the Shabab, which has carried out attacks across the country in a bid to overthrow the government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.

The government’s progress has partly been undermined by its own weak security forces. In recent days, they have protested over unpaid salaries.

Turkey’s efforts to help restructure the Somali military are part of its deepening engagement in Somalia, where it has invested heavily across many areas, from education and health to infrastructure and trade.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has funneled millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Somalia, undertaken major infrastructure projects, provided scholarships to Somali graduates, and unveiled its biggest embassy in the world, in the Somali capital. Turkish companies also manage Mogadishu’s international airport and seaport.

In recent months, Turkey has airlifted victims of terrorist attacks and provided materials to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey’s alignment with the Somali government, however, has increasingly made its citizens and officials a target for the Shabab group, which is linked to Al Qaeda.

In late December, two Turkish engineers working on a road near a busy intersection in Mogadishu were among those killed in an attack. In May last year, the Shabab took responsibility for another attack that killed a Turkish citizen near another busy junction in Mogadishu.

Intelligence officials have said that a devastating bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed almost 600 people, the deadliest ever attack in Somalia, was originally intended for the Turkish-built military base.

Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa researcher and analyst said the suicide bombing at a base he called “a fortress and Mogadishu’s best-protected facility” was a “very significant” moment.

“Turkey is now the federal government of Somalia’s closest security partner,” Mr. Abdi said. “Al Shabab sees great strategic threat in this growing power of the Somali National Forces.”

Turkey, he noted, is now the Shabab’s “number one target.”

Hussein Mohamed reported from Mogadishu, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.

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