Mogadishu — The death toll from twin car bombings in the Somali capital Mogadishu, claimed by Al-Shabaab Islamists, has risen to 100, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Sunday, drawing condemnation from the country’s international allies.
“So far, the number of people who died has reached 100 and 300 are wounded, and the number for both the death and wounded continues to increase,” he said after visiting the blast location.
Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack in which two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart near the city’s busy Zobe intersection, followed by gunfire, saying in a statement they had targeted the country’s ministry of education.
The afternoon explosions tore through walls and shattered windows of nearby buildings, sending shrapnel flying and plumes of smoke and dust into the air.
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Somalia’s allies swiftly denounced the bloody siege, with the United States, the United Nations and the African Union, as well as Turkey all issuing messages of support.
Women, children and the elderly were among the victims of the attack, police spokesman Sadik Dudishe said.
“The ruthless terrorists killed mothers. Some of them died with their children trapped on their backs,” he said on Saturday, adding that the attackers had been stopped from killing more “innocent civilians and students.”
“I could not sleep last night because of the horrible scene,” police officer Adan Mohamed said on Sunday.
The attack took place at the same busy junction where a truck packed with explosives blew up on October 14, 2017, killing 512 people and injuring more than 290, the deadliest attack in the troubled country.
Mohamud described the incident as “historic,” saying “it is the same place, and the same innocent people involved.”
“This is not right. God willing, they will not be having an ability to do another Zobe incident,” he said, referring to Al-Shabaab.
Shop owner Mohamed Jama said he was with four men when the huge explosions hit.
His shop, which is located next to a bank, collapsed and its windows shattered, the flying glass penetrating the flesh of the men.
“One of us had serious injuries… we bled there for a few minutes,” he told AFP in hospital.
The White House on Sunday decried the “tragic terrorist attack… and in particular its heinous targeting of the Somali Ministry of Education and first responders.”
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres “extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, which include United Nations staff,” his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement.
The U.N. mission in Somalia vowed to stand “resolutely with all Somalis against terrorism.”
“These attacks underline the urgency and critical importance of the ongoing military offensive to further degrade Al-Shabaab,” AU Transition Mission in Somalia, which replaced the previous AMISOM peacekeeping force, tweeted late Saturday.
Pope Francis also offered condolences to the victims of the bloody attack.
“Let us pray for the victims of the attack in Mogadishu in which more than 100 people lost their lives, among whom (were) many children,” he said, following his traditional Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square.
The World Health Organization said it was ready to help the government treat the injured and provide trauma care to the victims.
Al-Shabaab has been seeking to overthrow the fragile foreign-backed government in Mogadishu for about 15 years.
Its fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011 by an African Union force but the group still controls swathes of countryside and continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets.
In August, the group launched a 30-hour gun and bomb attack on the popular Hayat hotel in Mogadishu, killing 21 people and wounding 117.
Mohamud, who was elected in May, vowed after the August siege to wage “all-out war” on the Islamists.
In September, he urged citizens to stay away from areas controlled by jihadists, saying the armed forces and tribal militia were ratcheting up offensives against them.
Al-Shabaab remains a potent force despite multinational efforts to degrade its leadership and boost Somalia’s own security services, with the AU trying to help them take over primary responsibility for the country’s security by the end of 2024.
But the group last week claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in the port city of Kismayo that killed nine people and wounded 47 others.
Somalia has been mired in chaos since the fall of president Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991.
His ousting was followed by a civil war and the ascendancy of Al-Shabaab.
As well as the insurgency, Somalia — like its neighbors in the Horn of Africa — is in the grip of the worst drought in more than 40 years. Four failed rainy seasons have wiped out livestock and crops.
The conflict-wracked nation is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change but is particularly ill-equipped to cope with the crisis as it battles the deadly Islamist insurgency.