Mortar shells were fired at a U.S. congressman by Somali militants as his plane lifted off from a Somali airport on April 13, 2009.
A spokesman for Al Shabaab, a U.S. designated terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the Somali government, claimed responsibility for the attack against Representative Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat.
"We fired on the airport to target the so-called democratic congressman sent by [U.S. President Barack] Obama," Sheikh Hussein Ali said in a posting on a militant Web site. "This government is welcoming America, which is our prime enemy, and we will never stop attacking them."
A police officer at the airport said that "one mortar landed at the airport when Payne's plane was due to fly and five others after he left." Payne, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Africa, was not injured in the attack. He was reportedly informed of the mortar shelling upon arriving in Kenya, the next stop in his three-country tour of Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti.
Nineteen civilians, mostly women and children, were wounded when the shells landed in residential areas near the airport, according to Somali officials.
During Payne's visit in Mogadishu, he met with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke to discuss piracy, security and cooperation between Somalia and the U.S. The trip, taken against the advice of the U.S. State Department, was intended to bolster Somalia's new transitional government.
The attack on Payne's airplane comes one day after the U.S. Navy rescued American ship Captain Richard Phillips, who had been held hostage for five days by Somali pirates. On April 8, 2009, four Somali pirates attacked the U.S.-flagged ship Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean off Somalia's eastern coast, taking Phillips hostage.
Al Shabaab did not link their attack on Congressman Payne's airplane with the hostage issue. The group reportedly opposes piracy and anti-piracy patrols by international navies off the Somalia coast.
In the past 18 months, approximately 20 Somali-American youth from the Minneapolis area have traveled to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, according to U.S. authorities. In October of 2008, naturalized U.S. citizen Shirwa Ahmed was one of five terrorists who carried out a suicide attack on the United Nations compound, the Ethiopian Consulate and the presidential palace in Hargesis, killing 24 people. Ahmed is reportedly the first known American suicide bomber.