MOGADISHU, Somalia - Islamic insurgents killed Somalia's top security minister and at least 24 other people yesterday in a suicide car-bomb attack at a hotel frequented by government officials.
The attack, which followed the killing a day earlier of Mogadishu's police chief during skirmishes in the capital, was the latest violence in a two-month battle for control of the Horn of Africa nation. Government soldiers are fighting insurgents seeking to install an Islamic state.
National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden had been leading a recent government offensive against militants in Mogadishu and other parts of the country, successfully recapturing districts that had fallen to insurgents. He was meeting with other government officials and clan elders in the central Somalia town of Beledweyne, about 200 miles north of Mogadishu and near the Ethiopian border, when the attacked occurred.
Somalia's president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, said the car bomb was evidence that international terrorists were trying to establish a beachhead in Somalia.
"Somalia has been invaded by al-Qaeda, which wants to make a hideout inside Somalia," Ahmed said in Mogadishu. "Day after day, many foreign people arrive in Somalia. I call on the international community to support us so we can eliminate these terrorists together."
The government and U.N. officials say at least 200 foreign fighters from Yemen, Pakistan, and other nations have entered Somalia to assist the hard-line Islamic militia al-Shabab, which has pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda.
A Shabab spokesman acknowledged responsibility for yesterday's attack. "One of our holy warriors used a car laden with explosives to enter the building where the apostate and other members from his group were meeting," spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in a telephone news conference.
His militia accuses Ethiopia of sending soldiers over the border in recent weeks to bolster the Somalian government. Ethiopian government officials denied the claims. In 2006, Ethiopia's army helped the Somalian government topple an Islamic regime that had seized control of Mogadishu.
A Western diplomat in Kenya downplayed Shabab's al-Qaeda connections, saying the foreign fighters entering Somalia did not appear to be well-trained. But the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said the international community should move quickly to support the government.
The United States has provided about $1 million in aid to the government over the last six months, but Somalian officials say they need more to train and arm soldiers.
Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. As many as 250 people have died since May, according to local estimates. In addition, about 120,000 people have been displaced by the current fighting, the U.N. refugee agency said.