Somali security forces and emergency services evacuate an injured man from the scene where a car bomb exploded at a shopping mall in Mogadishu, Somalia, February 4 2019. Picture: REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR
Somali security forces and emergency services evacuate an injured man from the scene where a car bomb exploded at a shopping mall in Mogadishu, Somalia, February 4 2019. Picture: REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR

Mogadishu — Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants shot dead the Maltese manager of a major northern port and detonated a car bomb in the capital on Monday, killing nine people, in a day of death for the restive nation.

A gunman shot Maltese national Paul Anthony Formosa at the Bossasso port, in semi-autonomous Puntland state, while he was at work for P&O Ports, a subsidiary of the Dubai-based global operator DP World.

Soon afterwards, up to 11 people were killed by a powerful car-bomb blast, which rocked the busy Hamarweyne market in the capital Mogadishu, in the latest attack by the Al-Qaeda affiliate plaguing the country. Earlier, officials said nine were killed. 

“An armed man shot and killed Paul Anthony Formosa who was the construction project manager for DP World. He was killed inside the port and the security forces also shot the killer on the spot”, local security official, Mohamed Dahir, told AFP.

A witness, Abdukadir Weheliye, said he heard several shots at the port and then saw the body of a white man being taken away in an ambulance.

The Dubai government confirmed the death in a statement on Twitter. Three other employees have been injured in this morning’s incident, and all are currently receiving medical treatment,” it said in a statement.

The attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, which said in a statement it was “part of broader operations targeting the mercenary companies that loot the Somali resources”.

The DP World subsidiary in 2017 signed a 30-year concession contract for the management and development of the port, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, more than 1,300km  north of Mogadishu.

The Dubai-based ports company has sparked friction with Mogadishu over its development of ports in Berbera in breakaway Somaliland — whose independence is not recognised — as well as Puntland.

Many of Somalia’s federal states have aligned with the United Arab Emirates, while the central government is perceived as pro-Qatar, in the Gulf crisis pitting Arab powers against each other. Shabaab also claimed responsibility for the car bomb in Mogadishu, via a statement on a pro-Shabaab website.

“The blast occurred close to Mogadishu mall, and it has caused death and destruction,” said police officer Ahmed Moalin Ali.

“The terrorists parked a vehicle loaded with explosives in the vicinity of the mall to kill the innocent civilians.”

He said some of the victims died in a building that collapsed as a result of the blast in the Hamarweyne market.

“I saw the bodies of four people recovered from the debris of a collapsed building and three others were strewn dead outside after the blast had blown them,” said shopper Munira Abdukadir.

“I was not far away from the blast location, but I was lucky to have survived. Several people were wounded and some were screaming before the ambulances arrived,” said another witness, Abdulahi Mohamed.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre’s military regime which ushered in decades of chaos, including an insurrection by the al-Shabaab since 2006.

The group once held sway over large swathes of countryside and the capital. However, they were chased out of Mogadishu by the 22,000-strong African Union peace-enforcement mission AMISOM in 2011 and have since abandoned many strongholds.

They nevertheless control vast rural areas and remain a key threat to peace in Somalia and the region, with the capacity to stage significant attacks.

In October 2017, a truck bombing in a busy neighbourhood of Mogadishu killed more than 500 people in the bloodiest attack in Somalia so far.

On January 15, Shabaab gunmen — and the first suicide bomber in Kenya — attacked the Dusit hotel and office complex in Nairobi, leaving 21 people dead and prompting police and the US embassy to urge caution in public spaces.