MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Two car bombs exploded Saturday at a busy crossroads in the Somali capital near major government offices, killing “dozens of civilians,” including children, the national police said. A hospital worker counted at least 30 bodies, fearing possibly many more.
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, particularly by the Al-affiliated al-Shabab group. -Qaeda which often targets the capital. It also came five years after another massive explosion at the same location killed more than 500 people.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Al-Shabab rarely claims attacks with large numbers of civilians killed, such as in the 2017 explosion. But President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud blamed al-Shabab by name, calling the attack “cruel and cowardly”.
A volunteer from Medina hospital, Hassan Osman, said that “out of a total of at least 30 deceased people brought to the hospital, the majority of them are women. I saw this with my own eyes.” At the hospital and elsewhere, distraught relatives peered under plastic sheeting and into body bags, looking for loved ones.
Aamin’s ambulance service said it had picked up at least 35 injured people. An ambulance responding to the first attack was destroyed by the second blast, director Abdulkadir Adan added in a tweet.
“I was 100 meters away when the second explosion happened,” said witness Abdirazak Hassan. “I couldn’t count the bodies on the ground due to the (number of) dead.” 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. He saw “many” bodies and said they appeared to be civilians traveling on public transport.
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.
The attack happened at the Zobe Junction, which was the scene of a massive al-Shabab truck bombing in 2017 that killed more than 500 people.
The Somali government has embarked on a new, high-profile offensive against the extremist group the United States has described as one of al-Qaeda’s deadliest organizations. The president described it as “all-out war” against extremists, who control large parts of central and southern Somalia and have been the target of dozens of US airstrikes in recent years.
Extremists responded by killing prominent clan leaders in an apparent effort to deter support for this government offensive.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said the attack would not dampen the public uprising against al-Shabab, and he and the president expressed the government’s determination to eliminate the extremist group.
Associated Press reporter Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed.
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