Al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab have attacked the heavily-fortified Somali presidential palace compound, blasting through a gate with a car bomb and engaging palace guards in a fierce gun battle that left 14 people dead, police have said.
Al-Shabab said it carried out the Friday attack on the heavily fortified compound in Mogadishu, known as Villa Somalia. The Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was unharmed.
"Our commandos have attacked the so-called presidential palace in order to kill or arrest those who who are inside. The enemy had suffered a great deal of harm," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, the group's military spokesman, told the AFP news agency.
The president said al-Shabab would gain nothing more than publicity, adding that the group were on the verge of being defeated.
"Apart from media headlines, #Shabaab will achieve nothing from it," a Twitter account run by the president's office said.
"Don't be fooled by this media spectacular [sic]. This is another act of desperation from a dying animal."
The AFP quoted police as saying that at least 14 people died in the attack: five Somali officials or soldiers and nine attackers. The interior ministry said two government officials were among the dead.
Mogadishu, the capital, has been hit by a series of suicide bomb in the past few weeks, attacks claimed by al-Shabab, which was pushed out of the city in mid-2011 but has continued to wage a sustained armed campaign.
Al-Shabab in uniform
Friday's battle took place at the house of Somalia's top military commander, General Dahir Aden Indha Qarshe, located in the same compound and near the presidential palace building, Abdikadir Ahmed, a senior police officer, told the Reuters news agency.
"The Shabab fighters who attacked the palace were about 10 men in military uniform and the red hats [worn by the palace guards]," Hussein Farah, a senior police officer at the scene, told Reuters.
"They had three cars. One was a car bomb and the other cars were carrying well-armed fighters," he said.
"All the Shabab fighters died; some blew themselves up while others were shot dead. Several government guards also died. Now the fighting is over."
The Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned the attack.
"This is another desperate and criminal act which does nothing but harm to the people of Somalia," said Kay after speaking to the Somali president.
"The Somali people are tired of shootings, bombings and killings. It’s time for a new chapter in Somalia’s history and we cannot allow a slide back at this critical time.
"The UN and the international community remain steadfast in their determination to see a new Somalia rise."