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NAIROBI, Kenya – A large explosion outside a school in the Somali capital on Thursday killed at least eight people and injured 17 others, police said. It was the latest in a series of deadly attacks as Somalia experiences a tense election period and a massive humanitarian crisis.

A vehicle full of explosives exploded around 7:30 am, targeting a convoy belonging to a security company guarding United Nations personnel, according to Abdifatah Aden Hassan, a police spokesman. No UN staff were injured in the blast, he said.

Somali Memo, a news site affiliated with the extremist group Al Shabab linked to Al Qaeda, said the group had taken responsibility for the attack, which occurred on a key road in Hodan district, northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. The district is home to many schools, restaurants and the residence of a former president.

At least 13 students from one of these schools, Mocaasir, were injured in the blast. Photos and videos from the scene showed mutilated school buses and badly damaged classrooms.

“If schools and places of learning are not free from targets, then it is a real tragedy,” said Abdulkadir Adan, founder of Aamin Ambulance, a free ambulance service that was among the first to intervene on the spot.

“Students and teachers now face not only physical injuries, but psychological trauma as well,” he added.

The militant group Shabab has stepped up its attacks in recent weeks, carrying out suicide attacks, ambushes and assassinations targeting journalists, government officials, police and foreign peacekeepers in Somalia.

At least two people were killed in early November in Mogadishu when a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Last week, a suicide bombing kill Mogadishu government radio director Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled, whom the militant group said he had been “chasing” for a long time.

Last week, African Union mission chief Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira told the UN Security Council that the Shababs had stepped up attacks on electoral centers and “increased public executions of individuals working with Somali security forces and AMISOM personnel ”.

Authorities and analysts say the armed group is exploiting the many economic, political and security challenges facing Somalia. A worsening drought now affects around 2.6 million people in 66 of the country’s 74 districts, according to the United Nations. On Tuesday, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said a emergency state and appealed to the international community for increased humanitarian assistance.

Somalia in the Horn of Africa has also been affected by a widespread Desert Locust infestation and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, political leaders continue to bicker over protracted and highly contested elections. A general election slated for early this year has been delayed after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed decided to extend his rule, in what opponents called a takeover. As the vote for lawmakers began in recent weeks, many observers reported accusations of vote buying and manipulation in the process.

Many Somalis are also worried about the possible exit of the African Union peacekeeping force, whose mandate expires on December 31. While the mission is expected to continue in one form or another, a significant reduction in military forces, coming after the early withdrawal of US troops this year, could see the Shabab take control of the country, Somali officials and analysts say. Security. Despite years of foreign funding and training, experts believe that Somali security forces are not fully capable of stabilizing the country or protecting its people.

“Somalia is going through a difficult time right now,” said Omar S. Mahmood, senior Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“Al Shabaab has always been opportunistic with its violence, especially when political actors are either distracted or consumed by internal quarrels,” he said. “In that sense, this is the right time for the movement to step up the pace of its attacks, especially in Mogadishu.

Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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