Page last updated at 23:30 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Somalia graduation day suicide attack condemned

Injured man led from the scene of the attack
Officials believe government ministers were the targets of the blast

There has been widespread condemnation of a suicide bomb attack in Somalia that killed at least 19 people, including four government ministers.

The prime minister of Somalia's UN-backed government, Omar Sharmarke, described it as a "vicious and calculated outrage".

The African Union condemned the bombing - at a graduation ceremony for medical students - as "inhumane and cowardly".

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, in the capital Mogadishu.

However, presidential spokesman Hassan Haile told the BBC he believed it was the work of Islamist militants al-Shabab.

Militant groups control most of Mogadishu and much of the country.

I had to step over their bodies to get out - people were screaming: 'Is it a bomb? Is it a bomb?'
Mohammed Olad Hassan
BBC reporter

"The loss of our ministers is disastrous, but it is an outrage to target the graduation of medical students and kill those whose only aim in life was to help those most in need in our stricken country," Mr Sharmarke said.

Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed described the attack at the Shamo Hotel as a "national disaster".

He described the victims as "dear citizens... unjustly assassinated while carrying out their duty to the nation".

The African Union said the blast would "not deter the resolve and determination of the African Union to support the people of Somalia in their quest for peace and reconciliation".

Mogadishu map, showing the Shamo hotel

The acting head of the AU's peacekeeping force Amisom, Wafula Wamunyini, said the blast was "intended to intimidate and blackmail" the UN-backed government.

The EU's new foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, said in a statement: "I condemn in the strongest possible terms this cowardly attack against civilians including students, doctors and journalists."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the bombing marred "what should have been an event filled with hope for Somalia."

A statement signed by the UN, the US, the EU and the Arab League said the attack would not deter the international community from continuing its support to the Somali government.

Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Gelle said the male bomber had been dressed in women's clothing, "complete with a veil and a female's shoes".

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan, who was at the scene, said there was a huge explosion in the hotel's meeting hall where hundreds of people were gathered.

"Everyone was covered in dust," he said.

"I looked across and the young guy sitting next to me was dead. I had to jump over him to get out. It was a shocking, terrible scene."

Health Minister Qamar Aden Ali, Education Minister Ahmed Abdulahi Waayeel, Higher Education Minister Ibrahim Hassan Addow and Sports Minister Saleban Olad Roble were all killed, officials said.

At least two journalists were also among the dead but officials said most of those killed were students. More than 60 people were injured.

The students had been graduating from Benadir University, which was set up in 2002 to train doctors to replace those who had fled overseas or been killed in the civil war.

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