U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia warns of attacks by Somali militants

By Aaron Maasho ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia has warned of a possible attack by Somali militant group al Shabaab and urged its nationals to avoid large crowds and hotels and restaurants in an upscale district of the capital Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian authorities said late last year that its security forces were on heightened alert after receiving strong evidence al Shabaab was plotting further attacks after a botched suicide bombing in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian troops, alongside forces from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Djibouti, are part of an African Union (AU) mission fighting al Shabaab inside Somalia. Their presence has been used by the al Qaeda-aligned insurgents as a rallying cry for a holy war against foreign troops on Somali soil. "The Embassy has received threat reports of al Shabaab's intent to target the Bole area," the embassy said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to a wealthy district in the capital. "Restaurants, hotels, bars, places of worship, supermarkets, and shopping malls in the Bole area should be avoided until further notice because they are possible targets for a potential imminent terrorist attack." In October last year, two suicide bombers belonging to the group accidentally blew themselves up while preparing to kill soccer fans during Ethiopia's World Cup qualifying match against Nigeria. The group's leader Ahmed Godane was killed in a U.S. air strike in September this year, but al Shabaab has since named a new head and promised to deliver "great distress" to its enemies in retaliation. Ethiopia says it has thwarted several attacks over the past two years which it blamed on domestic rebel groups as well as the Somali insurgents. Neighboring countries and Western governments want to neutralize al Shabaab, a group they say has exploited Somalia's chaos to attract and train jihadists who have carried out attacks across east Africa. In September last year al Shabaab gunmen raided an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people in a four-day siege. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Raissa Kasolowsky)