At least 100 people were murdered in Saturday’s two car explosions at a prominent intersection in the capital, according to Somalia’s president, and the death toll could grow. This is the country’s bloodiest strike since a truck bombing at the same location five years ago killed more than 500 people.
On the scene of the blasts in Mogadishu, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told journalists that almost 300 people were injured. “We implore our international allies and Muslims around the world to send their medical doctors here because we cannot treat all of the victims abroad,” he said.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist group al-Shabab, which frequently targets the capital and controls vast portions of the nation, claimed responsibility and stated that it targeted the ministry of education. It asserted that the ministry is a “base of the adversary” that receives money from non-Muslim nations and is “dedicated to remove Somali youth from the Islamic religion.”
Al-Shabab often does not claim responsibility when a large number of people are killed, as was the case in the 2017 explosion, but it has been angered by a high-profile new offensive by the government that tries to shut down its financial network. The group stated that it is committed to struggle until the country is ruled by Islamic law and urged residents to avoid government-controlled areas.
The newly elected president of Somalia stated that the country remained at war with al-Shabab and that “we are winning.”
The attack in Mogadishu came on the same day that the president, prime minister, and other senior officials met to discuss expanding measures to combat violent extremism, particularly al-Shabab. The radicals, who seek an Islamic state, have retaliated to the offensive by murdering famous clan elders, ostensibly in an effort to deter local support.
After decades of strife, Somalia has one of the world’s poorest health systems, and the attack has overwhelmed first responders. At hospitals and other locations, distraught relatives peered under plastic sheets and into body bags in search of family members.
Halima Duwane sought out her uncle, Abdullah Jama. “We do not know if he is dead or alive, but the last time we spoke, he was in this area,” she sobbed.
The attack’s witnesses were stunned. Abdirazak Hassan, a witness, stated, “I could not count the bodies on the ground due to the (number of) casualties.” According to him, the first explosion struck the perimeter wall of the ministry of education, where street sellers and money changers were stationed.
A reporter for the Associated Press who was on the site reported that the second explosion occurred in front of a packed restaurant at lunchtime. The explosions destroyed tuk-tuks and other cars in a restaurant and hotel district.
Citing colleagues and police, the Somali Journalists Syndicate reported that one journalist was murdered and two others were injured by the second explosion while heading to the scene of the first. The second explosion, according to the Aamin ambulance service, destroyed one of its response cars.
It was not immediately obvious how explosive-laden cars again found their way to the high-profile position in Mogadishu, a city with numerous checkpoints and a constant state of vigilance against assaults.
In recent years, the United States has labeled al-Shabab as one of al Qaeda’s most lethal organizations and targeted it with dozens of airstrikes.
Since May, when President Biden authorized the Pentagon’s request to bring soldiers back to the war-torn country, fewer than 500 U.S. forces have been stationed in Somalia, reversing a decision made by former President Donald Trump in January 2021 to withdraw a larger group of 750 troops. After assuming office, Trump initially increased bombing in the region, but in December 2020 he ordered a military withdrawal.