At least eight people have been killed and 17 injured, including school students, in Somalia’s capital in a car bombing that targeted a United Nations security convoy, officials and witnesses said.
The armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the huge blast that came in the early hours of Thursday, rocking Mogadishu and sending a column of smoke above the city. Gunfire echoed around the scene, witnesses said.
“We counted eight dead people and 17 others including 13 students injured,” police spokesman Abdifatah Aden Hassan told reporters. He said a suicide bomber in an SUV full of explosives had targeted a UN security convoy.
Aamin Ambulance service evacuated at least 23 people who were injured in the blast, Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of the service, told the Reuters news agency.
It was not immediately clear if any UN personnel were among those killed or injured in the huge blast, which targeted the convoy as it passed near a school.
UN officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, confirmed the group’s operatives had carried out the attack.
The blast near the K4 junction in the heart of Mogadishu was so large that walls of the nearby Mucassar primary and secondary school collapsed. Cars were mangled in the explosion.
Mohamed Hussein, a nurse at the nearby Osman Hospital, said he had been pulled from the rubble of a collapsed ceiling.
“Our hospital walls collapsed. Opposite us is a school that also collapsed. I do not know how many died,” he said.
He told Reuters that they “were shaken by the blast pressure, then deafened by the gunfire that followed”.
Al-Shabab has been fighting Somalia’s central government for years to establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The group frequently carries out bombings and gun assaults in Somalia and elsewhere in its war against the Somalia military and the African Union-mandated AMISOM force that supports the government.
The al-Qaeda-linked armed group said in a statement carried by its Andalus radio that Thursday’s attack targeted Western officials being escorted by the African Union peacekeeping convoy.
The peacekeeping force was meant to withdraw from the country, but its mission could be extended amid concerns that Somali forces are not ready to assume responsibility for security.