Top sports officials killed in bombing

Updated: April 4, 2012, 2:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The president of Somalia's Olympic committee and the head of the national soccer federation were killed in a suicide bomb blast Wednesday that the IOC called an "act of barbarism."

Somali Olympic Committee head Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were among at least 10 people killed after a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at the newly reopened national theater in Mogadishu during a ceremony also attended by top government officials.

The explosion happened as Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali was standing at a podium to deliver a speech. The prime minister was unharmed, said government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman.

The International Olympic Committee said it was "shocked to hear of the terrorist attack" that killed two of Somalia's sports leaders.

"Both men were engaged in improving the lives of Somalian people through sport and we strongly condemn such an act of barbarism," the IOC said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with the Somalian sporting community who lost two great leaders and with the families of the victims."

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said his thoughts were with the soccer and sporting "family" in Somalia.

"I knew both men personally and can only say good things about their endless efforts to promote sport and football in their country. They will be sorely missed," he said.

African Football Confederation president Issa Hayatou sent condolences to the families of those killed.

"It is another black day for African football. It's a tragedy as Somali football lost a great leader ... who was actively committed to football development despite very challenging conditions."

The national theater reopened for the first time in 20 years on March 19 with a concert featuring musicians playing guitars and drums. Wednesday's ceremony was held to mark the first anniversary of the start of a national TV station.

The blast cut chairs in half, filled the room with smoke and splattered blood across the walls.

"It was a cowardly act and that will not deter the government from performing its national duties," Osman said. "The prime minister will energize the government to eliminate the terrorists out of the country."

Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said at least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded. He said the wounded included the country's national planning minister.

"The blast happened as musicians were singing and spectators were clapping for them," said Salah Jimale, who was in attendance at the theater but received only light scratches. "Huge smoke made the whole scene go dark. People screamed and soldiers suddenly started opening fire at the gate. Some wounded people escaped and ran away."

Shoes and blood-splattered mobile phones lay on the floor. A man wounded in the head and chest tried to sit up but suddenly collapsed and died as a reporter looked on.

Fighters belonging to an Islamist group, al-Shabab, were pushed out of the capital in August by African Union and government troops.

A period of relative peace had descended on Mogadishu after al-Shabab left, allowing sports leagues, restaurants and even a little night life to flourish. Despite those advances, al-Shabab has continued to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks, sometimes with devastating effect.

Somali sport was rocked by at least two terrorist attacks last year. In October, Somali Football Federation general secretary Said Arab and a national team player were hurt when a car bomb killed 57 people in Mogadishu.

Earlier in 2011, an under-20 international player was killed in a blast and two teammates were injured when they were walking home from a training session.

The attack Wednesday came with the country's Olympic committee preparing for the London Games, which start on July 27. Somalia has sent athletes to the last four Summer Games despite violence and instability at home.

The national soccer team has struggled and did not enter the qualifying competition for next year's African Cup. It has already been eliminated from qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

"This is obviously a very difficult moment for everyone involved with the Somali Olympics team," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement. "But I hope that with time, as they move beyond today's tragic events, so they will unite their country and honor the memory of those who have lost their lives today by competing in the London Olympics.

"We will welcome them and stand with them in memory of their very sad loss."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.