More than 20 people were killed Sunday in a suicide truck bombing in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said, in a fresh strike claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab group.
“The tally we have made so far indicates that more than 20 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the blast,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a Somali police commander.
He said the toll might rise further as the injured and dead had been taken to different hospitals around the city. It was unclear how many people had been in the vicinity of the blast.
Abdikadir Abdirahman Adem, director of Mogadishu’s AMIN ambulance service, said his staff had transported 48 injured people to hospital.
“The bomber targeted a civilian area. There were porters and other small-scale traders in the area when the blast occurred,” said Mohamed.
In a chaotic scene after the explosion in the seaport area, an AFP journalist saw bystanders hauling bodies away on makeshift stretchers, overturned chairs and tables and scattered belongings.
A Somali security officer meanwhile guarded a suspect, blindfolded, on the back of a black pickup truck.
“I saw a woman and her daughter die on the spot,” a shocked witness said, adding: “I saw with my own eyes six dead people.” The Shabaab group claimed responsibility in a statement distributed on its Telegram messaging account.
It said the target was a military base close to the port and claimed to have killed “nearly 30”. The group frequently exaggerates the number killed in its attacks.
A spokesman for the city adminstration, Abdifatah Omar Halane, said investigations were under way.
The Shabaab is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government of Somalia and regularly stages deadly attacks on government, military and civilian targets in the capital and elsewhere in the war-torn country.
Sunday’s attack took place close to the entrance to city port and was large even by Mogadishu’s standards.
“I have never witnessed such a blast which caused so much devastation,” said local resident Abdukarim Osman.
The attack comes as Somalia is in the process of electing a new government with the much-delayed presidential vote due on Dec 28.
Prior to Sunday’s blast, the Shabaab claimed an attack on Mogadishu in August when a car bomb outside a popular hotel close to the presidential palace, leaving 15 dead.
On Nov 26, a car bomb exploded near a busy market, killing at least eight. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.