Bomb hits Somalia's biggest bank after militant threat

MOGADISHU Tue Apr 2, 2013 2:44pm EDT

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MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A bomb exploded outside the headquarters of Somalia's biggest bank on Tuesday, wounding at least two people hours after al Qaeda-linked militants ordered the company cease operations in areas under their control.

The blast outside Dahabshiil's office in Mogadishu shattered its doors and littered the area with debris, police said.

"A remote-controlled bomb planted in front of Mogadishu's Dahabshiil bank and money transfer headquarters injured two guards," police captain Nur Hassan told Reuters.

Earlier, members of Islamist group al Shabaab walked into Dahabshiil branches in areas of Somalia under their control and demanded they close, accusing the company of working for aid agencies they have banned in their territories, according to a statement on the movement's website.

Money transfer firms like Dahabshiil are vital to the Horn of Africa country's fractured economy, which lacks a developed banking sector after 20 years of civil conflict.

Security in the coastal capital Mogadishu has improved greatly since al Shabaab fled the city after a military offensive in August 2011. But bombings and assassinations - blamed on militants - are still frequent.

Police said they had yet to identify who was behind the blast, but that a mobile phone attached to the device was used to detonate it. It was the first such attack to target a bank.

"The explosion crashed open the main entrance glass window but good luck it was dark, and customers were not near," a Dahabshiil worker, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Somalis typically transfer money via "hawala" agents, an informal system based on trust, including $2 billion the Mogadishu government says Somalis abroad send home every year.

Dahabshiil declined to comment on the threats by Shabaab, which in 2010 briefly banned money transfers by mobile phone, saying it helped feed Western capitalism.

"I heard they accused us of allowing aid agencies to send cash through our bank," Dahabshiil employee Sabdow Ali said from the al Shabaab-controlled southern town of Hudur.

Al Shabaab has thrown out more than a dozen humanitarian groups from areas under its control in the past three years, including the United Nations' food agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Islamic Relief.

The militants say aid creates dependency.

In control of much of the capital Mogadishu between 2009 and 2011, the group has been driven from most major cities in central and southern Somalia by African Union peacekeepers.

But in rural areas its fighters are notorious for amputating thieves' limbs and stoning to death women suspected of adultery, under a strict interpretation of sharia, Islamic law.

(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Jason Webb)