MOGADISHU - Somalia's Shabaab extremists claimed a mortar strike that left two children dead near the presidential palace Thursday during a handover ceremony at which new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed officially took office.
Several explosions were heard near the palace during the handover ceremony, which comes several days before Mohamed -- better known by his nickname Farmajo -- is officially sworn in.
"Two innocent children were killed and three others including their parents wounded after a mortar shell landed on their house near (a school) behind the presidential palace, the incident is still being investigated," said local police commander Mohamed Abdukadir.
"We don't know where it was fired from but it targeted civilian houses."
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on its Telegram and Twitter accounts, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist accounts.
Witnesses reported about three mortar blasts, one of which hit a house.
"It was very terrible to see these innocent children being killed, the mortar shells were seemingly targeting the presidential palace but it landed in nearby areas including this house," said witness Abdikarin Duale.
The attack underlines the challenge facing the new president, who has inherited an administration with limited control over Somali territory due to the presence of Shabaab, and is heavily propped up by the international community.
Farmajo, whose brief stint at prime minister in 2010-11 showed him to be a no-nonsense leader set on improving governance and cracking down on corruption, is hugely popular in the country.
However turning around one of the world's foremost failed states will be no easy task and Farmajo appealed for patience from his countrymen.
"I need the Somali public to understand how much the government is in need of their support. Government will need enough time address things," he said during the ceremony.
"We cannot accomplish things in a few months but what we need is to forgive each other and stand up towards improving security and the economy of the country. This is a government for the people."
Sources close to the new president say an official inauguration ceremony will be held on February 22, with leaders from neighbouring countries expected to attend.
Farmajo's election is seen as a step toward full democracy for Somalia, which has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre's military regime in 1991, which led to civil war and decades of anarchy in Somalia.