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Somali president defies Al-Shabaab by venturing into Mogadishu

From Nima Elbagir, CNN
May 13, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Somali president attended a hotel opening in Mogadishu's militant occupied outskirts
  • He was targeted by al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab on his second day in office
  • The president tells CNN that al-Shabaab "no longer call the shots in Mogadishu"

Editor's note: CNN correspondent Nima Elbagir, has been reporting on Somalia since 2006. Last week she was given a rare interview with the president and rode with his security convoy as he visited a militant stronghold on the outskirts of the capital, Mogadishu, in defiance of the continuing threats on his life.

Mogadishu (CNN) -- A female soldier roughly passes her hands over the waistband of my jeans as a finishing touch to the most intimate pat down I've ever received. But we're not done yet, a metal detector is then passed in unusually close contact with my skin. Up down, over and around.

And that's just to get through the first gate.

At the second entrance, a Somali close protection officer bars the way and Special Forces officers crowd around as our camera is switched off and on to prove it is indeed a camera.

Even though we had traveled in with African Union soldiers tasked with escorting the President, suspicions still had to be assuaged.

In the boat patrolling for pirates

And if all this seems extreme, it isn't.

On his second day in office, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was targeted by the al-Qaeda linked militant group al-Shabaab, and even on this day, as we drive through town, we pass the still-smoking wreckage of the Somali Minister of Interior's convoy. A car filled with explosives drove into his flag car, detonating on impact.

The president tells me he is aware that these trips he makes cause consternation among his advisers, but he has absolutely no intention of stopping
Nima Elbagir

Fortunately for the Minister he wasn't in the car at the time. Eight civilians, though, were killed on the street.

Read more: Suicide bomber targets Qatari delegation in Somalia, 8 dead

And yet, Mahmud insisted on keeping this appointment at an opening of a hotel in Deynile, on the outskirts of Mogadishu where Al-Shabaab still have a presence.

If he's worried he didn't look it, smiling from behind his wrap-around shades as women dressed in the Somali flag sing traditional songs of welcome.

Eventually he is brought to us around the back of the courtyard for our scheduled interview -- but not before the perimeter is repeatedly swept.

Read more: Dozens dead in Somali courthouse attack

In an open-air space like this, though, there is only so much his men can do. Especially when his enemies are willing to die for the cause.

The president tells me he is aware that these trips he makes cause consternation among his advisers, but he has absolutely no intention of stopping. He says they send the most powerful message of all -- that al-Shabaab no longer call the shots in Mogadishu.

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