At least 38 people have been killed and several others sustained injuries when a pair of car bombings, carried out by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terrorist group, hit the Somali capital of Mogadishu, police say.
Both attacks were carried out almost simultaneously in two different parts of the capital on Friday afternoon, police said, adding that the first explosives-laden car went off after militants breached a checkpoint near the president’s residence, the Villa Somalia, by shooting at security guards.
“The militants got off when they neared the palace, the … car bomb exploded outside the palace where there were many military soldiers who guarded the street adjacent to the palace,” said Major Omar Abdullahi.
The second blast took place when another explosives-ridden vehicle, parked in front of a hotel away from the palace, detonated.
“Another car loaded with explosives went off close to a recently opened hotel,” said police officer Ibrahim Mohamed.
Initial reports had put the death toll at 18, but Abdukadir Abdurahman Aden of the city's main ambulance service later said, "We have seen at least 38 people dead."
The al-Shabab terror group, in a statement posted online, claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after the blasts rocked Mogadishu.
Meanwhile, Security Minister Mohamed Abukar Islow said the security forces had managed to subdue the terrorists and killed five of them.
“The security minister confirmed the operation was concluded and that the five militants who launched the attack were shot dead,” the state news agency quoted him as saying.
The explosions follow weeks of relative calm in the capital.
Back in October last year, more than 500 people lost their lives in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu. The bomb attacks were the deadliest since al-Shabab started an insurgency in 2007. The government blamed the al-Shabab for the carnage, but the terror group did not claim responsibility for that incident.
The Takfiri militant group was forced out of the capital by African Union troops in 2011 but still controls large parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military, and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.
The group, which wants to overthrow the Somali government, has already claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians across East Africa and thousands of Somalis in a decade-long insurgency. The extremist outfit is just one of the challenges facing the new Somali government, which is still struggling to expand its authority beyond the capital and other selected areas.
A 22,000-strong multinational African Union force in Somalia is expected to pull out and hand over the country's security to the Somali military by the end of 2020.