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Somalia's national theater hit by suicide bomb; top sports officials among the dead

Somalia's newly reopened national theater in Mogadishu has been hit by an explosion, believed to be a suicide bomb.

Mogadishu theater somalia 2012 3 20Enlarge
Spectators gather to watch a performance staged by artists at the open-air, Chinese-built Somalia National Theatre which was reopened for the first time in 20 years, on March 19, 2012, in Mogadishu. The fragile Western-backed government, which is waging an uphill battle against Islamist Al Shabaab militants in the Horn of Africa nation, claimed it was a sign that things were slowly improving in the pockmarked seaside capital. (Stringer//AFP/Getty Images)

An explosion has hit the Somali National Theater in the capital, Mogadishu, just weeks after it reopened for the first time in 20 years.

The blast is believed to have been triggered by a female suicide bomber, the BBC reported.

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It came during an event attended by Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali and other government officials, to commemorate the launch of Somalia's national television network.

Ali told the BBC he was unhurt, but as many as ten others were killed, according to the Associated Press, including the head of Somalia's Olympic committee and president of its football association.

The President of the Somali Olympic Committee, Aden Yabarow Wiish, and the Somali Football Federation chief, Said Mohamed Nur, were among a group of dignitaries who had gathered to mark the first anniversary of the launch of Somalia's national television station.

Dozens more, including three Somali journalists, are also reported wounded. There are not yet any official casualty figures.

Al Shabaab rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack. "We targeted the infidel ministers and legislators, and they were the casualties of today," a spokesman for the militant Islamists, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters.

After Al Shabaab carried out a suicide bombing near the presidential palace last month, they threatened more explosions would follow.

According to the Daily Telegraph, witnesses described the suspected suicide bomber as a girl "less than 16 years old." She was initially refused entry to the event, Defense Minister Hassan Arab Isse told the paper, adding that officials are investigating why she was subsequently allowed in. 

The National Theater reopened on March 19, having been closed since civil war broke out in the early 1990s.

The reopening was hailed then as a sign of normalcy returning to Mogadishu. As GlobalPost correspondent Tristan McConnell wrote: 

"Battered and bruised by the years of conflict and neglect it welcomed members of the public to a show of poetry, singing and drama. It is a small thing but of huge symbolic importance."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120404/somalia-mogadishu-national-theater-suicide-bomb