Early this morning, suicide bombers coordinated an assault on five offices in northern Somalia. Among the offices attacked was the United Nations Development Program headquarters. There were causalities. The official UN statement is here. The New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman is on the story.

Al Qaeda’s leadership has been explicit with its disdain for the United Nations and its desire to see the UN attacked. In Somalia, al Qaeda is backing a hard line militant group in its struggle against the weak Somali government and urging that group to resist United Nations mediation efforts. Today’s attack is added to the sad list of terrorist attacks on the UN, including the bombing of UNDP offices in Algiers in December 2007 which killed 11 and the suicide bombing of the UN compound in Iraq in 2003, killing Sergio Vieiro de Mello and 23 others.

Terrorists target the United Nations because they are so threatened by it. In places like Somalia, the United Nations is the only viable path toward peace and reconciliation, good governance, rule of law, and economic development. These are clearly the conditions under which al Qeada could not thrive, so they and their affiliates attack UN humanitarian workers so as to intimidate the UN out of the country. How should the world respond? It seems that the first thing we need to do is make the protection of humanitarian workers a higher priority. On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq bombing Samantha Power said it best. “We cannot return to a pre-8/19 world any more than we can return to a pre-9/11 one. Neither the blue flag nor the red cross is enough to protect humanitarians in an age of terror. But five years after August 19 we owe it to those who died — and to those whom humanitarians have saved — to do far more to protect the protectors.”

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