Somali car bombings condemned by UN and US as death toll rises

Vehicles packed with explosives were detonated minutes apart near the busy Zobe junction, killing scores and wounding hundreds

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The UN and US have condemned attacks that killed scores of people and wounded hundreds in Somalia's capital.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Sunday the number of people killed in an attack at a busy intersection in Mogadishu had risen to 100.

Two cars packed with explosives blew up minutes apart near the busy Zobe intersection, followed by gunfire.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns these heinous attacks and reiterates that the UN stands in solidarity with Somalia against violent extremism,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Mr Guterres extended “his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, which include UN staff, as well as the government and people of Somalia”, Mr Dujarric said.

Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab claimed responsibility and said the Ministry of Education had been the target of the attack.

The White House on Sunday also condemned the “tragic terrorist attack in Mogadishu … and, in particular, its heinous targeting of the Somali Ministry of Education and first responders”.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington remained committed to supporting the Somali government “in its fight to prevent such callous terrorist acts”.

The damaged interior of Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu after a 30-hour siege by Al Shabab extremists in August 2022. AFP

On a visit to the scene on Sunday, Mr Mohamud said about 300 other people were wounded.

“The number for both the death and wounded continues to increase,” he said.

African Union Commission chairman Moussa Mahamat condemned the attack and urged the international community to “redouble its efforts to ensure robust international support to Somalia's institutions in their struggle to defeat terrorist groups”.

The UAE strongly condemned the attack and extended its condolences to the families of the victims.

The Emirates rejects all forms of violence, extremism and terrorism aimed at destabilising security and stability and in contravention of human values and principles, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Al Shabab does not typically claim responsibility when large numbers of civilians are killed, as in the October 2017 lorry bombings.

However, it has been angered by a high-profile offensive by the government that is intended to shut down its financial network, AP reported.

The group said it was committed to fighting until the country is ruled by Islamic law. It asked civilians to stay away from government areas.

'This is not right'

The afternoon explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings, sending shrapnel flying and plumes of smoke and dust into the air.

The attack took place at the same busy junction where a lorry packed with explosives blew up on October 14, 2017, killing 512 people and wounding more than 290.

Mr Mohamud described the incident as “history”.

“It is the same place, and the same innocent people involved,” he said. “This is not right. God willing, they [Al Shabab] will not be having an ability to do another Zobe incident.”

The extremists have 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 parts of countryside and continues to wage deadly strikes on civilian and military targets.

The attack overwhelmed first responders in Somalia, which has one of the world’s weakest health systems after decades of conflict. At hospitals and elsewhere, frantic relatives peeked under plastic sheeting and into body bags, looking for loved ones.

Witnesses were stunned.

“I couldn’t count the bodies on the ground due to the [number of] fatalities,” Abdirazak Hassan said.

He said the first blast hit the perimeter wall of the education ministry, where street vendors and money changers were located.

An AP journalist at the scene said the second blast occurred in front of a busy restaurant during lunchtime.

The explosions demolished autorickshaws and other vehicles in an area of many restaurants and hotels.

The Somali Journalists Syndicate, quoting colleagues and police, said one journalist was killed and two others wounded by the second blast while rushing to the scene of the first.

The Aamin ambulance service said the second explosion destroyed one of its vehicles.

It was not clear how vehicles loaded with explosives again made it to the high-profile location in Mogadishu, a city thick with checkpoints and constantly on alert for attacks.

The US has described Al Shabab as one of Al Qaeda’s deadliest organisations and hit its forces and bases with scores of air strikes in recent years.

Hundreds of American military personnel returned to the US after former president Donald Trump withdrew them.

Updated: October 31, 2022, 5:23 AM