MOGADISHU - A failed assassination attack on the Prime Minister of Somalia and an attempt to hijack a luxury American cruise ship off the coast has reinforced fears that the country is spiralling out of control as a centre of al Qaeda terrorism.
The unsuccessful attack by pirates at the weekend was the first on a luxury cruise liner in the area.
Three people were killed in the attack on the Prime Minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, as he visited the chaotic capital Mogadishu. He was unharmed in the explosion set off near his convoy, witnesses said.
Gedi was visiting from Jowhar, where his Government is based.
Officials said he was travelling from the airport into the centre of the city when his convoy was attacked by gunmen, who hurled grenades and detonated a landmine. At least one of Gedi's bodyguards was reported to be among the dead.
Political collapse in this failed state has created a power vacuum that is posing a danger to Somalis and the outside world. Since 2003, Somalia has witnessed the rise of a new, ruthless, independent jihadi network with links to al Qaeda.
The former Italian colony has been without a functioning national Government for 14 years and a transitional Parliament, sworn in last year, has failed to end the anarchy.
In the rubble-strewn streets of the ruined capital of Mogadishu, al Qaeda operatives, jihadi extremists, Ethiopian security services and Western-backed counter-terrorism agents are engaged in a shadowy and complex contest of intimidation, abduction and assassination.
Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades launched an attack on Seabourn Spirit as it rounded the Horn of Africa.
They were repelled by the ship's crew who set off electronic countermeasures, described as a "huge bang" by passengers.
Seabourn Spirit was carrying 302 passengers and crew, most of them Americans as well as some Britons and Australians.
Yesterday there were calls for a naval taskforce to try to stop attacks in Somali waters - among the most dangerous in the world, with 27 cases of hijackings since March.
But it is unlikely such a force would quell the lawlessness which has racked the country for decades.
Beginning in 1993, a two-year United States commanded UN humanitarian effort was able to alleviate famine conditions.
When the US withdrew in humiliation in 1995, having suffered significant casualties when it widened tactics to targeting warlords, order had still not been restored.
During the 1990s, extremism in Somalia was centred on the al-Ittihaad al-Islaami, a band of Wahhabi militants bent on establishing an Islamic emirate.
Al Qaeda also became established and attacked US and UN peacekeepers using the country as a transit zone for terrorism in neighbouring Kenya. Leading members of al Qaeda's East African network still hide in Somalia, according to the International Crisis Group.
- INDEPENDENTBy Leonard Doyle