Somali soldiers stand by a destroyed building near the scene of a suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, Jan, 2, 2017

MOGADISHU: Suicide bombers attacked the main peacekeeping base in Somalia’s capital yesterday, killing at least three Somali security officers, police said. Islamist Shabaab militants, who want to topple the Western-backed government, said they carried out the assault near Mogadishu’s main airport, an area used by several embassies, aid groups and telecoms companies. One bomber drove a car into a checkpoint outside the headquarters of the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, killing three Somali officers stationed there, police officer Mohamed Ahmed said.

Another vehicle then drove through towards the base’s main gates but came under fire from peacekeepers. “It exploded about 200 meters from the gate. Civilian buildings were damaged,” AMISOM said on its Twitter feed. The powerful blasts damaged the front of the nearby Peace Hotel, though there were no immediate reports of casualties there. The burned-out shell of one of the wrecked vehicles lay outside.

Shabaab’s military spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said the fighters had intended to attack the hotel, as African leaders seeking a solution to Somalia’s decades-long turmoil had met there last year. Nearly 300 members of Somalia’s federal parliament were sworn in last week after elections and are expected to pick a new president.

The blasts left a scene of destruction with rubble strewn across the road and some nearby villas all but collapsed. “The mujahedeen fighters carried out two suicide attacks one of them targeting a checkpoint alongside the road to Halane,” the Shabaab statement said using the local name for the airport compound. “This was to clear the way for another bomber who was driving a truck which targeted Peace Hotel.”

The Shabaab is fighting to overthrow the internationally backed government in Mogadishu and regularly uses suicide bombers against government, military and civilians. Mogadishu airport is a regular target but this is the first time the well-known and popular Peace Hotel has been attacked. Somalia is in the midst of a drawn-out election process to choose a new government. – Agencies