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Minister: Islamic courts responsible for suicide bombing in Somalia; Islamic leader denies


MOGADISHU, Somalia: Somalia's Islamic courts are responsible for suicide bombings that killed 10 people and were intended to kill top government officials, a government minister said Friday, an allegation that the leader of Somalia's Islamic courts denied.

On Thursday, a veiled woman and two other suicide bombers exploded cars outside the western Somali town of Baidoa, the base of Somalia's weak government, in an attack that the transitional government had initially blamed on foreign al-Qaida fighters.

The attack was believed to be only the second suicide bombing ever in the country.

"The Islamic courts were the masterminds of these suicide attacks. Their aim was to enter Baidoa where they would then carry out their attack. Their target was to kill the transitional federal government's top officials," Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle told The Associated Press.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Islamic courts, which controls most of southern Somalia, said that his group condemned the attack and denied that his group's members had anything to do with it.

"I was surprised when I heard the transitional federal government was blaming the Islamic courts. This is a baseless allegation. They have no evidence to say the Islamic courts are behind this," Aweys told The Associated Press.

Jelle said that preliminary investigations had found that two cars, and not three as initially reported, had been used in the bombings. He said that a third car found at the site of the bombing had no connection with the bombing and may have been carrying passengers unaware of the planned attack.

The minister said that the transitional federal government was on high alert and all vehicles entering Baidoa were being thoroughly searched.

Thursday's bombing attack had the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation. Suicide bombings carried out by multiple attackers have been widely used by Islamic extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, both battlegrounds for al-Qaida, and terror leader Osama bin Laden has declared Somalia to be a battleground in his war against the West.

Two civilians died in hospital overnight, local government officials said. Two policemen were killed instantly at the scene with three suicide bombers and their companions.

Tensions are high in this Horn of Africa nation where the Islamic courts movement and the Ethiopian-backed transitional government are vying for control. The Islamic group has been steadily gaining ground since seizing the capital of Mogadishu in June, while a confidential U.N. report obtained last month said there were up to 8,000 Ethiopian troops in the country supporting the government.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. The interim government was formed with the help of the United Nations two years ago, but exerts little control.

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