MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Hooded soldiers carrying sniper rifles have unleashed a sweeping crackdown across Mogadishu in a hunt for militants and weapons after the country's al-Qaida-linked militants group's latest attack on the country's presidential palace.
Soldiers have been deployed on the city's key roads following the Friday attack, which saw multiple car bombs and seven gunmen try to penetrate the presidential palace. Al-Shabab's spokesman vowed that the group would succeed in killing Somalia's president in a future attack.
"The operation is underway," police Capt. Mohamed Hussein said of increased security measures seen in the capital on Sunday and Monday. "We have rounded up many suspects, but the real criminals will be discovered after investigations."
The tightened security and the latest attack reflect the ongoing threat from al-Shabab, which has lost control of the capital and the port city of Kismayo since 2011 but still carries out suicide bombings against African Union troops, the U.N., the Somali government and prominent Mogadishu businesses.
Al-Shabab in recent weeks has increased its attacks, sending mortars into the city and apparently carrying out targeted killings. Then on Friday came its attack on the presidential seat of power.
"The enemy has attacked our national symbol of the presidential palace," said Abdullahi Godah Barre, Somalia's interior minister after a cabinet meeting Saturday. "Therefore, we shall take a punitive action in response to that attack."
Responding to criticism of lax security, Somalia's president said the attack would not derail the plan to oust militants from their last strongholds in Somalia's southern countryside.
"Our plan for the offensive against the enemy will not stop," President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed said.
Somalia's security minister, who bore the brunt of criticism from Mogadishu residents, warned of tougher security measures in the capital. Soon after, Somali troops were kicking in doors to arrest suspects.
"They didn't leave anything unturned. They also took my husband with them as well," said Sharifo Abdi, a mother of seven in the city.
Residents in the Somali capital who have experienced decades of war fear heightened violence in coming months. Many are not sure the security forces can defend the city against insurgent-style attacks.
"We hope they can, but it's a matter of days until they take another blow," said Hassan Ali, a university student in Mogadishu. "Constant efforts will allow us to regain our faith in the government, instead of a few days of frantic efforts followed by a slide backward."
One security expert said al-Shabab is increasing attacks in Mogadishu in order to throw off a looming offensive in the areas of the country they control.
"It is unlikely that the government would go ahead with the offensive against al-Shabab while the capital is on fire," said Mohamed Sheikh Abdi.