At least four people were killed and 10 wounded when a car bomb exploded close to a checkpoint near Somalia’s parliament in the capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, January 8, police said.
A plume of thick black smoke was seen over the city and witnesses said a number of vehicles were on fire.
Al-Shabaab claimed the attack, after a spike in activity in recent days by the al-Qaeda linked group which has seen it inflict mass casualties in Somalia and attack a U.S. military base in Kenya.
“Explosives were packed in a vehicle which the security forces think was trying to pass through the checkpoint but because he could not do that, the suicide bomber detonated it,” said police officer Adan Abdullahi.
“Initial reports we have received indicate four people were killed and more than 10 others were wounded in the blast.”
Bile Ismail, the manager of finances at the ministry for women and human rights, was among those killed, relatives and colleagues told AFP.
‘There was chaos’
Abdirahman Mohamed, who was at a nearby grocery store when the blast occurred, said he saw several dead bodies.
“I saw the dead bodies of several people some of them killed by shrapnel inside their vehicles. There was chaos … and ambulances reached the scene soon after the blast,” he said.
Shamso Ali, another witness, described “smoke and chaos along the road, the blast was very heavy.”
“Thanks to God I was a distance away but I saw the smoke and several vehicles caught on fire,” he said.
The powerful blast comes after al-Shabaab claimed a massive car bombing in Mogadishu on December 28 that killed 81 people.
The attack hit a busy checkpoint in the southwest of the city, leaving vehicles charred and twisted at a crossroads in the deadliest assault in two years in the Horn of Africa country. Scores more were wounded.
Mogadishu is regularly hit by attacks by al-Shabaab, which has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.
On December 10, five people were killed when Shabaab militants attacked a Mogadishu hotel popular with politicians, army officers and diplomats in an hours-long siege.
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.
Shabaab was routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong AMISOM mission, and has had to abandon most of its strongholds, but it still controls vast rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.
Al-Shabaab has also managed to expand its network in the region, especially in Kenya which has suffered several devastating attacks in retaliation for it sending troops into Somalia in 2011.
Also Sunday, just hours after the attack, police arrested three men who tried to force their way into a British military training camp in the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki.
The group has in the past carried out bloody sieges against civilians in Kenya, such as the upmarket Westgate Mall in 2013 and Garissa University in 2015.
The uptick in attacks comes almost a year since the January 15 siege on an upscale Nairobi hotel which left 21 people dead.
In recent statements, Shabaab has referred to an increase in U.S. military air strikes under President Donald Trump, accusing Washington of killing innocent civilians.
With reporting from AFP