MOGADISHU: A suicide bomber detonated her explosives Wednesday at a ceremony at the national theater, killing at least 10 people, including two of the country's top sports officials.
The explosion at the newly reopened theater happened as Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was standing at the podium to deliver a speech. The prime minister was unharmed, said Abdirahman Omar Osman, the government spokesman. The attack came as Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, was starting to resume a normal life after two decades of chaos and violence.
Fighters belonging to an Islamist group, al-Shabab, were pushed out of the capital in August by African Union and government troops. The national theater reopened for the first time in 20 years on March 19 with a concert featuring musicians playing guitars and drums. Wednesday's ceremony was held to mark the first anniversary of the start of a national TV station.
The blast cut chairs in half, filled the room with smoke and splattered blood across the walls.
The president of Somalia's Olympic committee and the president of its soccer federation were killed, according to Shafici Mohyadin, the federation's secretary.
"It was a cowardly act and that will not deter the government from performing its national duties," Osman said. "The prime minister will energize the government to eliminate the terrorists out of the country."
Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said at least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded. He said the wounded included the country's national planning minister.
"The blast happened as musicians were singing and spectators were clapping for them," said Salah Jimale, who was in attendance at the theater but received only light scratches. "Huge smoke made the whole scene go dark. People screamed and soldiers suddenly started opening fire at the gate. Some wounded people escaped and ran away."
Shoes and blood-splattered mobile phones lay on the floor. A man wounded in the head and chest tried to sit up but suddenly collapsed and died as a reporter looked on.
The International Olympic Committee issued a statement saying it was "shocked to hear of the terrorist attack that took the lives of the President of the Somali Olympic Committee Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur today in Mogadishu."
"Both men were engaged in improving the lives of Somalian people through sport and we strongly condemn such an act of barbarism. Our thoughts are with the Somalian sporting community who lost two great leaders and with the families of the victims," the IOC said.
Outside the theater, nervous soldiers fired into the air to disperse shocked crowds gathered around the theater.
A period of relative peace had descended on Mogadishu after al-Shabab left, allowing sports leagues, restaurants and even a little night life to flourish. Despite those advances, al-Shabab has continued to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks, sometimes with devastating effect. Last October militants detonated a truck loaded with fuel drums at a government ministry gate, killing more than 100 people.
An old woman in tears ran toward a policeman after Wednesday's blast, saying: "My son was in there."
The policeman stopped her. She sat down and cried, but later ran into the theater, where she learned her son had died.
At the hospital, ambulance brought in the wounded, including a parliamentarian. Nurses led stumbling patients into surgical rooms.