Mogadishu (AFP) – A massive car bomb exploded in a busy area of Mogadishu on Saturday, leaving at least 78 people dead, many of them university students, in Somalia’s deadliest attack in two years.
The blast occurred at a busy intersection southwest of the Somali capital where the presence of a security checkpoint and a tax office often cause traffic jams.
Scores of wounded were carried on stretchers from the site, where the force of the explosion left the charred and twisted remains of vehicles.
The attack has not been claimed, however Mogadishu is regularly hit by car bombings and attacks waged by Al-Shabaab Islamist militants allied to Al-Qaeda.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo condemned the attack in comments carried by the Somalia national news agency SONNA.
“This enemy works to implement the destructive will of international terrorism, they have never done anything positive for this our country, they have not constructed a road, never built hospitals and not education centres as well,” he said.
“All they do is destruction and killing and the Somali public are well informed about this.”
Many of those killed are believed to be university students whose bus was hit by the blast. Two Turkish nationals also died, police said.
“The number of the dead from the blast is still increasing, we now have 78 dead and 125 injured,” the director of the private Aamin Ambulance service, Abdukadir Abdirahman Haji, told AFP.
Police officer Ibrahim Mohamed described the explosion as “devastating”.
“We have confirmed that two Turkish nationals, presumably road construction engineers are among the dead, we don’t have details about whether they were passing by the area or stayed in the area,” he said.
Turkey’s defence ministry wrote on Twitter it had sent a military plane “loaded with emergency aid equipment… in order to provide emergency aid to our Somalian brothers injured in the despicable terror attack in Somalia”.
– ‘Dead bodies scattered’ –
Sakariye Abdukadir, who was near the area when the car bomb detonated, said the blast “destroyed several of my car windows”.
“All I could see was scattered dead bodies… and some of them burned beyond recognition.”
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khiere appointed an emergency committee to work on providing help to those who have been wounded in the blast.
“We will seek medical assistance outside the country for those whose health situation cannot be dealt with inside the country. We are calling on the Somali public both, inside and outside the country to take part in assisting the victims, and to stand together in the fight against Al-Shabaab”, the prime minister told Radio Mogadishu.
Mogadishu’s mayor Omar Mohamud Mohamed told a news conference that the exact number of dead was not yet known.
“We will confirm the exact number of the number of the dead later but it is not going to be small, most of the dead were innocent university students and other civilians,” he said.
Witness Muhibo Ahmed said the attack was a “devastating incident because there were many people including students in buses who were passing by the area when the blast occurred”.
Mogadishu is regularly hit by attacks by the Shabaab, which has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.
The militant group emerged from the Islamic Courts Union that once controlled central and southern Somalia and is variously estimated to number between 5,000 and 9,000 men.
In 2010, the Shabaab declared their allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
The following year, its fighters fled positions they once held in the capital Mogadishu, and have since lost many strongholds.
But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities, managing to inflict bloody death tolls in attacks at home and abroad.
Two weeks ago, five people were killed when Shabaab militants attacked a Mogadishu hotel popular with politicians, army officers and diplomats in an hours-long siege.
Since 2015, there have been 13 attacks in Somalia with death tolls above 20. Eleven of these have been in Mogadishu, according to a tally of AFP figures.
All of them involved car bombs.
The deadliest attack in the country’s history was a truck bombing in October 2017 in Mogadishu which left 512 people dead and around 295 injured.