(Adds details about victim, comments from al Shabaab; changes dateline to Mogadishu)
By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
MOGADISHU, July 23 (Reuters) - A veteran Somali protest singer who had become a member of parliament was shot dead in central Mogadishu on Wednesday by Islamist gunmen who blocked her car and sprayed it with bullets.
Saado Ali Warsame was one of fewer than 30 women lawmakers in the 275-seat parliament, MPs said.
Believed to be in her 70s, she was renowned for songs that landed her in jail when she challenged the former dictator Siad Barre before he was toppled in 1991 and Somalia plunged into conflict.
Attackers from al Shabaab Islamist group, which has staged a series of assaults during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, claimed the killing.
"We are behind the killing of lawmaker Saado Ali Warsame and we shall eliminate them one by one," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters.
He said the group was targeting lawmakers because they had supported the "invasion of enemies", a reference mainly directed at African Union forces which are battling the Islamist group and remain the backbone of security in the embattled nation.
Legislator Dahir Amin Jesow said that, as well as Warsame, the attack had also killed "another clerk for the parliament".
Warsame continued to sing long after Barre's fall, notably giving a popular performance in 2009 in Djibouti when she sang about turmoil that had ripped apart her nation and about how the gun rather than debate determined who ruled.
Al Shabaab with its own strict interpretation of Islam was still in control of Mogadishu at that time and banned any such public concerts. The group was finally ejected from the capital in 2011 but still carries out frequent shootings and bombings.
The Islamist group has staged a series of attacks in the capital during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The Muslim month, calculated according to the lunar calendar, draws to a close next week.
In one of its most daring assaults, al Shabaab militants attacked the presidential compound on July 8, although President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was not there at the time.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by John Stonestreet)