BAIDOA, Somalia (AP) – Somali police investigating a car bomb assassination attempt on the president arrested three suspected members of a fundamentalist Islamic group Thursday and recovered explosives, an official said.

Police in three armored vehicles raided a house after a tip that the car used by the suicide bomber in the Sept. 18 assassination attempt had been seen leaving the residence on the day of the attack, Baidoa Gov. Ahmed Madey Issaq told The Associated Press.

One of the men seized was a prayer leader at a mosque in Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

Baidoa is the only town held by Somalia’s weak government. The government has been increasingly sidelined by the Islamic group, which controls Mogadishu.

President Abdullahi Yusuf escaped the assassination attempt unharmed, but the blast killed his brother and four other members of the presidential detail. In an ensuing gunbattle, six suspected accomplices of the bomber were killed and two were captured.

No one claimed responsibility for the blast, believed to be the first suicide bombing in Somalia. The hard-line Islamic movement has denied having anything to do with it, and repeated the denial Thursday.

“We don’t have any one in Baidoa who carries weapons or wants to attack the government,” Sheik Yusuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Islamic courts, told the AP by telephone from Mogadishu. “We had said before that we are not behind the Baidoa blast. We suspect elements in the government have carried it out as they conspire against one another.”

Government officials declined to comment on the arrests.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

The government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order after years of lawlessness. But it has struggled to assert authority.

Clerics and militiamen set up a network of Islamic courts in a bid to restore order by enforcing Islamic law, sparking fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime.

Since sweeping over much of southern Somalia, including the capital, in June, the Islamic group has brought a semblance of order after years of anarchy.

The United States has accused Somalia’s Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has said Somalia is a battleground in his war with the West.

Despite a cease-fire agreement with the government, the Islamic group has continued its advances. On Sunday, it took the key port town of Kismayo, 260 miles southwest of the capital, without a fight.

Demonstrations against the Islamic group were held for a third day Thursday in Kismayo. Islamic fighters opened fire on the stone-throwing demonstrators, many of them women and children. Seven women were reportedly arrested. No casualties were reported.

The protesters had chanted that the fighters “are not Muslims” and “use Islam as a cover.” Kismayo resident Adan Farah Sed told the AP by phone that people there felt threatened by the militiamen. Another resident, Adni Sagaro, said they should “go back to their bases and leave our city alone.”

The militiamen had opened fire on a similar protest Monday, and witnesses said a teenager was killed and two others wounded. A smaller protest by hundreds of women Tuesday was peaceful.

On Wednesday, 300 fighters surrendered their guns and armored trucks to the Islamic militia and pledged to join their forces. Aden Hashi Ayro, the military chief of the Islamic group in Somalia, accepted the weapons, saying their aim “is to worship Allah and fight for the sake of Islam.”

Ayro, according to the U.N., is a suspected al-Qaida collaborator who trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.


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