Somalia football match to proceed despite fears of Al Shabab attack

Tournament has been described as moment of unity in conflict-stricken country

Hirshabele, pictured, will face Galmudug in the inter-state final in Mogadishu on Monday. AP
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Somalia's inter-state football final is set to go ahead on Monday, having been postponed out of fears militant group Al Shabab would carry out a suicide bombing at the 65,000-seat Mogadishu stadium, security sources told The National.

“Al Shabab were planning to deploy suicide bombers disguised as fans to blow themselves up among the crowd. This is why the match was postponed today,” the source said on Sunday.

The Somalia Football Federation had not given a reason for the postponement.

The Mogadishu stadium had been abandoned for years and served as a base for extremists during the country's civil war. It was used as a base by Ethiopian troops between 2007 and 2009, but was later taken over by Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab, before the government and African Union peacekeepers expelled them in 2011. It remained a base for AU forces until 2018.

The stadium was handed over to the government, and with Fifa's help, it was refurbished and opened to the public in 2020.

Somali authorities spent years working to restore the national stadium, and football fans waited eagerly for the match. But security fears remain.

During a semi-final match last Wednesday, police shot dead a suicide bomber, detonating his explosives at a security checkpoint near the stadium.

The blast occurred during the match, with fans already packed into the stadium.

“We were planning to party until late today. Down with Al Shabab, they have disrupted our party. We hope on Monday all will be well,” one fan, Abdi Said, told The National in Mogadishu.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 1:31 PM