MOGADISHU – At least 65 people have been killed by a huge suicide blast near a government compound in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, say officials, according to the BBC. Eyewitnesses said a truck carrying explosives was driven into a gate near a government ministry and detonated.
A spokesman for the Islamist militant group al-Shabab told the BBC it had carried out the attack. It is the largest attack since al-Shabab withdrew its forces from Mogadishu in August. Rescue workers said more than 40 people had been injured in the blast.
The UN-backed transitional government condemned the attack and said no senior government officials were hurt in the blast. Government members were meeting in the building near the blast site at the time. “The attack shows that the danger from terrorists is not yet over and that there are obviously still people who want to derail the advances that the Somali people have made towards peace,” it said in a statement. The government statement set the number of dead at 15, but it was not clear whether this was an earlier count.
The blast struck outside a compound housing government buildings in Kilometre Four (K4) – a crossroads in central Mogadishu. Buildings were destroyed. Police officer Ali Hussein said the vehicle had exploded after pulling up at a checkpoint on the way into the official compound.
Somalia’s Planning Minister Abdullahi Godah Barreh told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme he was in his office when the blast hit. “All of a sudden a huge, huge sound and all the furniture and all the windows and all the walls started falling apart,” he said.
The vehicle carrying the explosives was big, he said, about an eight- or 10-tonne truck. “The building that has been destroyed houses eight ministries, and you can imagine how crowded it would have been. I expect the casualty toll to be very high.” He said the area was well protected which is “why we have a high number of soldiers among the dead”. “There was some protection, but unfortunately, it was not good enough. Almost half of the cabinet sit in that building. So you can understand it was a good target for them – the terrorists.”
Among those killed were students who had been queuing at the main gate to take an exam at the education ministry in order to gain a scholarship to study in Turkey.
An official from the African Union, which has peacekeeping troops in Somalia, said the incident was “very serious”. Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991 – the weak transitional government and Islamist militias are competing for control of the country. Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, controls large swathes of south and central Somalia. It retreated from Mogadishu two months ago, but analysts said without a front line it was likely to begin carrying out more bombings, including suicide attacks. Last week, al-Shabab tried but failed to seize two towns from pro-government forces near Somalia’s border with Kenya.