Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab, which often targets the capital and controls large parts of the country, claimed responsibility, saying it was targeting the education ministry. He claimed the ministry was an “enemy base” which receives support from non-Muslim countries and is “committed to removing Somali children from the Islamic faith”.
Al-Shabab does not usually claim responsibility when large numbers of civilians are killed, such as in the 2017 explosion, but it has been angered by a new high-profile government offensive that also aims to shut down its financial network. The group said it was determined to fight until the country was ruled by Islamic law, and called on civilians to stay away from government areas.
Somalia’s president, elected this year, said the country remains at war with al-Shabab “and we are winning”.
The attack in Mogadishu came on a day when the president, prime minister and other senior officials were meeting to discuss increased efforts to counter violent extremism and in particular al-Shabab. The extremists, who seek an Islamic state, responded to the offensive by killing prominent clan leaders in an apparent effort to deter popular support.
The attack overwhelmed first responders in Somalia, which has one of the world’s weakest health systems after decades of conflict. In hospitals and elsewhere, distraught relatives peered under plastic sheeting and into body bags, searching for loved ones.
Halima Duwane was looking for her uncle, Abdullahi Jama. “We don’t know if he’s dead or alive, but the last time we spoke he was around here,” she said, crying.
Witnesses to the attack were stunned. “I couldn’t count the bodies on the ground because of the (number of) dead,” said witness Abdirazak Hassan. He said the first explosion hit the perimeter wall of the Ministry of Education, where there were street vendors and money changers.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said the second blast happened outside a busy lunchtime restaurant. The explosions demolished tuk-tuks and other vehicles in an area full of restaurants and hotels.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate, citing colleagues and police officers, said one journalist was killed and two others injured in the second blast as they rushed to the scene of the first. Aamin’s ambulance service said the second blast destroyed one of its response vehicles.
It was not immediately clear how explosive-laden vehicles once again drove to the high-profile location in Mogadishu, a city full of checkpoints and constantly on alert for attacks.
The United States has described al-Shabab as one of al-Qaeda’s deadliest organizations and has targeted it with dozens of airstrikes in recent years. Hundreds of US service members have returned to the country after former President Donald Trump withdrew them.