Somalia forces kill 2 suicide bombers trying to infiltrate constitutional assembly

(CBS/AP) MOGADISHU, Somalia - Security forces shot and killed two suicide bombers trying to infiltrate a meeting of 825 Somali elders debating the country's new constitution Wednesday, setting off their explosives in two thundering blasts, officials said.

The explosions killed the two bombers and wounded a Somali soldier, but no one else was wounded or killed, said Abdi Yassin, a police officer.

Interior Minister Abdisamad Mohamud said the two bombers had fake identity cards but refused to be screened by security forces, raising the suspicion of authorities.

"They sent two bombers to the assembly venue, but our heroic forces have foiled their plans and shot the two bombers," Mohamud said.

Security has improved markedly in Mogadishu over the last year, leading to a general revival of the seaside capital. But al-Shabab militants still infiltrate the city and carry out suicide attacks, particularly at high-profile events. African Union and Somali forces pushed al-Shabab fighters out of Mogadishu on Aug. 6, 2011.

The attempted attack highlights the persistent threat posed by extremists in Somalia as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Africa for meetings in six nations expected to focus heavily on the surge of Islamist groups in many countries - including al-Shabab in Somalia, which has links to al Qaeda.

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She will highlight the fact that Uganda is a "key U.S. partner" in regional security efforts and note that American troops are also training Ugandan soldiers, who make up the biggest contingent of an African Union force operating in Somalia to help defend the largely powerless government there from Islamic militants.

The U.S. military is also helping to train and equip troops from other African nations to join the fight against militants in Somalia, including in Sierra Leon, where a senior U.S. Army commander visited recently to give a pep-talk to soldiers about to be deployed. (Click here to see video from the U.S. Army)

America's involvement in Somalia prompted a headline earlier this week from the Los Angeles Times suggesting the U.S. had become the "driving force behind the fighting in Somalia."

U.S. Soldiers Train Ugandans
The involvement is not new, however. CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reported in 2008 on the American military's efforts to train troops in Uganda for the battle against al-Shabab.

Somali leaders — 825 of them — began the nine-day meeting on July 25 to examine, debate and vote on the constitution, a document that's been years in the making. A vote by the group, known as the National Constituent Assembly, is a key step in a flurry of political activity in Somalia over the next month.

The U.N. mandate for Somalia's current government expires on Aug. 20, and Somali leaders are to vote on the constitution, vote in a new 275-member parliament, then vote on a president all before then. If the assembly votes down the constitution, the new parliament will have to debate it and then vote on it.

The country's current constitution is the Transitional Federal Charter, which was written in 2004. Meant only as a temporary charter, it contains fewer rights than are spelled out in the new draft constitution.

The draft constitution makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia's legal foundation. No religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country and all laws must be compliant with Shariah — Islamic — law. But the draft has more progressive aspects as well: In its original draft the constitution protects the right to an abortion to save the life of the mother. It also would ban the circumcision of girls, a practice opponents call female genital mutilation.

Somalia has not had a powerful central government since 1991, when the president was killed and the country collapsed into chaos. The international community is working to create a government respected by the people that can provide goods and services in and outside the capital.