Tragic news out of one of the most war-torn places on the planet:

Gunmen opened fire on people leaving a mosque in Mogadishu on Sunday night, killing one of the country’s senior United Nations officials and wounding his son and another man, a witness and a family member said.

Osman Ali Ahmed was the head of the UN Development Program for Somalia. His assassination — and he appears to have been specifically targeted — follows the abduction just last week of the top man at another key UN agency operating in the country, the UN High Commission for Refugees, as well as the emergence of an al-Qaeda video calling for attacks on the UN in Somalia.

Facing the constant threat of such violence, UN personnel in Somalia must be among the bravest individuals to volunteer their services. Their work is exceedingly valuable — and necessary, in a country in which an estimated half of the population will be in need of assistance this year — but they cannot continue to have to operate under conditions of such rampant insecurity. As in most countries in which the UN works, most of its employees are nationals of the host country. Somalis are taking up the burden of repairing their country — we owe it to them to help make sure they are not kidnapped and killed.

UPDATE: Truer words couldn’t be spoken by Ahmed’s boss:

“The killing of Osman Ali Ahmed is a loss not only for the United Nations but also for the Somali people, who are the ultimate victims when humanitarian workers and aid officials are targeted in this way,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement issued by his spokesperson.

And Ban’s Special Representative in Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, pledged that “this killing will not deter the UN from carrying on its vital work inside the country,” a welcome voice of confidence against those who seek to harm Somalis by undermining the UN’s efforts in their country.

In response, Somalia’s prime minister has called for the “immediate” deployment of UN peacekeepers. While this carries with it the hope of greater protection, it is also not unreasonable to expect that UN peacekeepers will themselves face similar attacks. Until the parties — pushed by the UN and international community, naturally — are able to come to a meaningful political solution and ceasefire on the ground in Somalia, it will be difficult to ask Member States to contribute their soldiers to be shot at in Mogadishu.

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