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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) – A large explosion outside a school in the Somali capital on Thursday killed at least eight people, including students, witnesses said. The extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.

The al-Qaida-linked group controls large parts of rural Somalia and continues to thwart efforts to rebuild the Horn of Africa nation after three decades of conflict.

The explosion sent a plume of smoke over a busy part of Mogadishu during the morning rush hour. The explosion shredded part of the school, with rescuers peering through collapsed roof beams and wooden benches.

“We were extremely terrified of the explosion,” said teacher Mohamed Osman, who said he was explaining a lesson to students when the explosion occurred. “We were disoriented and we were covered in dust and smoke. “

Police spokesman Abdifatah Adam Hassan said eight people were killed and 17 injured.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Abdulkadir Adan of the Amin ambulance service, which rushed people to a hospital.

The victims were fewer than what could have happened since Thursday is part of the weekend in Somalia, a predominantly Muslim nation.

Al-Shabab, in a statement released by its Andalusian radio, said it was targeting Western officials escorted by the African Union peacekeeping convoy. But a witness, Hassan Ali, told the AP that a private security company was escorting those responsible and said he saw four of the security personnel injured.

The attack came as Somalia faces major questions over its political and security future. The AU peacekeeping force was supposed to withdraw from the country, but its mission could be extended due to fears that Somali forces are unwilling to take responsibility for security. The United States said earlier this year that the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia was complete.

A long-delayed presidential vote was due to take place in February, but is now expected to take place next year.

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