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Somalia's president narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Monday by a suicide car bomber outside Parliament in Baidoa, officials said. The blast and a subsequent gunbattle killed 11 people, including the president's brother.
"This is the first suicide bomber in Somalia," Foreign Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre told The Associated Press in Nairobi, Kenya. "This has the fingerprints of al-Qaida all over it."
Hurre said investigators determined the blast was a suicide attack because of "the way the body was dismembered, it was cut in two pieces."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Baidoa, the only town controlled by the virtually powerless government. But Hurre said he could not "rule out or rule in" an Islamic militia that has seized control of much of southern Somalia.
The Islamic group, which is accused of having links to al-Qaida, denied responsibility.
"The perpetrators of the Baidoa blast are enemies of Somali people and Islamic courts have no hand in it," said Abdirahman Mudey, a spokesman for the Islamic group.
The suicide attacker drove into the presidential convoy, hitting the car that usually carries President Abdullahi Yusuf, Hurreh said. The bomber "thought that was the president but in fact it was his security people," Hurreh said.
The president had been moved to another car that was not part of the main convoy in a routine security measure. The man who was driving Yusuf lost his hand in the attack, and the president was escorted from the car surrounded by bodyguards, said Baidoa resident Abdisalam Mohammed Nor Hassan, who witnessed the explosion. Other witnesses who didn't want to be named said the president appeared to have been hit in the face by flying glass.
The bomb exploded outside Parliament just 10 minutes after Yusuf had given a speech, said Mohamed Adawe, a journalist who witnessed the blast.
Yusuf's bodyguards chased several suspected accomplices, killing six of them in a gunbattle. The five other dead were in the president's convoy, officials said.
"This explosion was intended to kill the president, but he escaped and he is safe," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said. Two people were arrested, officials said.
The blast came a day after a nun was gunned down outside a hospital where she worked in Mogadishu, about 250 kilometers from Baidoa. There was no claim of responsibility, but many fear the shooting could be linked to worldwide Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI.
Hurre said the government believes the nun's killing and Monday's car bomb have "the hallmarks of al-Qaida." The terror organization's leader, Osama bin Laden, has called Somalia a battleground in his war on the West.
"Osama bin Laden has made it clear he wants to do harm to the government and to the president in particular," Hurre said. He also said the government believes the same people were responsible for both attacks. He did not elaborate.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, pulling the country into anarchy.
The current government was established two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but it has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa.
The Islamic militia seized control of Mogadishu in recent months and has extended its reach over much of southern Somalia, in direct challenge to the government.
The militia has imposed strict religious rule in the areas under its sway, and its Islamic courts are credited with bringing a semblance of order to the country. Many in the West, however, fear a Taliban-style regime could emerge.
Peace talks between the government and the Islamic group were to resume October 30 in Khartoum, Sudan. Earlier this month, the two sides agreed to eventually form a unified national army - a rare and significant accord.
Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi urged Somalis to unite behind the government.
"When you link the Baidoa blast to the killing of the nun in Mogadishu you will see the worsening security situation in the country and the upswing of terrorist acts in Somalia," he said. "This will not only affect Somalia, but it will also affect other neighboring countries."