U.S. re-opens embassy in Somali capital amid persisting Islamist violence

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – The United States announced on Wednesday it had re-opened its embassy in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, nearly three decades after it was shut down, underscoring deepening ties between the two nations amid persisting threats from Islamist group al Shabaab.

Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has been gripped by widespread lawlessness and violence since 1991 when autocrat Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by various warlords.

The United States closed its embassy in January 1991.

In a statement the U.S. embassy to Somalia said the move was a milestone in the strengthening of relations between the two countries and would help advance stability and development in Somalia.

“It is a significant and historic day that reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years,” the U.S. ambassador to Somalia, Donald Yamamoto, was quoted as saying.

The embassy, he said, would act “to enhance cooperation, advance U.S. national strategic interests, and support our overall security, political, and economic development.”

The re-opening of the embassy builds on the re-establishment of a permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Mogadishu last year.

A U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Wednesday the United States was already Somalia’s biggest donor. In 2018 Somalia received $730 million worth of aid from the Washington, the official said.

Al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab group remains a potent threat to Somalia’s internationally recognised central government, frequently carrying out bomb and gun attacks against Somali military and other targets.

On Monday the group’s fighters mounted an ambitious attack on a base where U.S. special forces train Somali commandos and also hit an Italian military convoy in a separate blast in Mogadishu.

On Wednesday two roadside bombs exploded at different locations in the outskirts of Mogadishu as convoys of Somali soldiers passed.

“The earth was shaken by a big blast and gunfire followed,” shopkeeper Nur Abdullahi told Reuters from Elasha town northwest of Mogadishu, where one of the bombs went off.

It was not clear whether any deaths had occurred in the two blasts as security officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the two blasts and said it had killed 12 soldiers, although the group often states death tolls that are different from those by the government and other authorities.

Al Shabaab says it is fighting to drive out of Somalia all foreign forces including the African Union AU-mandated AMISOM peace keeping force and then establish its own government run according to Islam’s sharia law.

Reporting by Katharine Houreld; additional reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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