The death toll from twin bombings in central Somalia has climbed to 48, the leader of Hirshabelle state said on Thursday, with Al Shabab extremists claiming the attacks were aimed at killing politicians as elections approach.
The bombings occurred the same day three people were killed in a separate attack near Mogadishu's airport that was also claimed by Al Shabab.
The first attack in Hirshabelle's Beledweyne district was carried out on Wednesday night by a suicide bomber. Two local politicians including vocal government critic Amina Mohamed Abdi and several of her guards were killed as she campaigned for re-election.
Minutes later, a car bomb exploded outside Beledweyne's main hospital where the injured were being taken for treatment, killing dozens and causing buildings to collapse while leaving vehicles in charred, twisted ruins.
“As far as we can confirm, 48 people were killed and 108 others injured in the twin blasts,” said Ali Gudlawe Hussein, leader of Hirshabelle state. He added that emergency workers had found bodies buried under debris.
“We are urging [citizens] to be very vigilant, we are ordering all security agencies to beef up security,” he said.
Two other attacks occurred in Beledweyne on Wednesday, killing former politician Hassan Dhuhul, an elder and civilians sitting outside a busy restaurant, police said. No further details were immediately available on those attacks.
Police in Beledweyne launched operations to secure the town after the bombings, state-run Somali National Television said on its Twitter account.
Earlier on Wednesday, security forces shot dead two gunmen who attempted to storm a heavily fortified area of Mogadishu near the city's main airport.
Al Shabab, Somalia’s extremist rebel group, have claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Somalia is conducting parliamentary elections in an indirect process that involves clan elders picking the 275 members of the lower house, who will then choose a new president on a date yet to be fixed.
In a statement late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said Wednesday's killings were aimed at disrupting the elections.
Data from the election commission shows that the election of 246 politicians has been completed so far before an April 15 deadline.
Al Shabab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, frequently stages deadly attacks in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia as they fight to impose strict Sharia in the country.
They oppose the federal government in Mogadishu and the presence of foreign peacekeepers in the Horn of Africa nation.