At least 15 people were killed in an al-Shabaab attack on Wednesday on the UN house in the Somalia capital, Mogadishu, the local authorities confirmed.
The dead included four foreigners, four Somali nationals hired as security guards, and seven fighters of the rebel group, he said.
At least one of the foreigners killed was a UN staff member, while two others were South Africans working for Denel, a government-owned defence and weapons company, according to sources in Pretoria.
Rebel group al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack in the Somali capital, called the UN a “merchant of death and a satanic force of evil.”
Some seven assailants took part in the attack. Witnesses said the attackers were dressed in military uniform.
One of the attackers was believed to have blown himself up at the entrance to the UN Development Programme offices at the start of the militant operation.
“I am truly shocked and horrified by what took place in Mogadishu today,” said Nicholas Kay, the top UN official in Somalia.
“This was an act of blatant terrorism and a desperate attempt to knock Somalia off its path of recovery and peace building,” said Kay, who added that “the vast majority of our staff are unhurt.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is “deeply concerned and outraged by the despicable attack against the UN,” Ban’s spokesman said.
Ban, who is currently on a visit to China, spoke to Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud by telephone on Wednesday and urged him to ensure better protection for UN staff in the country.
Ban expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the attack and said the UN would not be deterred from fulfilling its mission.
Somali government soldiers and AU peacekeepers rushed to the site, and engaged in heavy exchanges of gunfire with the assailants for more than an hour, eventually bringing the building under their control.
“I condemn this senseless and despicable attack on innocent UN civilians this morning,” said Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.
“The UN are our friends and partners, and the UN agencies offer us humanitarian help and support, so I and all Somalis are appalled that they should be the target and victims of such barbaric violence.’’
Al-Shabaab posted on Twitter that the UN was serving the objectives of the U.S. and, therefore, had to be “dislodged.”
The rebels have been on the backfoot since 2011, but still control vast swathes of territory in southern and central Somalia.