Dr Maslah was still writing a message of congratulations to his best friend when news reached him of the bombing.

The young surgeon was starting another gruelling shift at Galkayo Hospital and was happy that a few hundred kilometres south in Mogadishu his friends at medical school were celebrating their graduation.

A year earlier, he had been the one collecting his degree as one of the first class of university graduates in Somalia since 1991. He was looking forward to getting some reinforcements.

The graduation was a welcome bright spot in a city consumed by internecine war and government ministers packed into the Shamo Hotel, along with families, lecturers and students.

But this year's class would not be so fortunate. The doctor's friend, with whom he'd studied at Benadir University for six years, was ripped apart by a massive blast along with half his class and three ministers.

A young man had sneaked into the celebration disguised in women's clothing and a veil. He made his way to the front and triggered his explosive vest.

In a country seemingly inured to the atrocities of war, the slaughter of a class of young doctors has been greeted with unprecedented anger.

Yesterday, hundreds of Somalis marched from the bomb site to Benadir University in the first ever public demonstration against the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, and Al-Shabaab has denied it.

For Maslah there is more grief than anger. "I knew most of them ... I'm very sorry," he said.

The lost class of 2009 could not be more sorely needed.

Maslah, based in Galkayo, north of the capital, is one of only a dozen surgeons in the entire country.

His hospital has seen 34,000 patients in the past year.

He performs an average of 40 operations a month.

Merely resolving to stay in the country takes uncommon courage. "They have a passion for their people," says Karin Fischer Liddle from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

"They're extremely brave to have taken the decision to stay in Somalia."

- INDEPENDENT