At least 39 people were killed and dozens wounded on Friday in a string of explosions near a popular hotel in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu, police said.
“We have confirmed 39 civilians died and 40 others were injured in yesterday’s blasts,” said Mohammed Hussein, a police officer in the city. “The death toll might rise because some people are still missing.”
Somalian security official Abdulahi Ahmed had earlier put the death toll at 20. Twin car bombs exploded in the capital within moments of each other, followed by gunfire and a third blast, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the sky, according to a reporter.
Mogadishu faces frequent bombings at the hands of al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been fighting to overthrow the internationally backed Somalian government for more than a decade.
The blasts occurred near the Sahafi Hotel and Criminal Investigation Division police headquarters.
“The target of the attack was the Sahafi Hotel and even though the attackers used car bombs to make their way into the premises, the security forces stopped them,” Ahmed said.
“All of the four al-Shabaab attackers were killed outside” the hotel building, he added.
An initial “two blasts struck the perimeter of the Sahafi Hotel along the main road,” said police official Ibrahim Mohammed, who earlier gave a preliminary toll of more than 10 dead.
Witnesses said a third blast came from a suicide bomber who detonated an explosives-laden vest at the hotel’s front entrance, as three attackers in Somalian military uniform were shot at the rear entrance.
Abdulkadir Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu’s Aamin Ambulance Service, earlier said his team had recovered 10 bodies and 40 wounded.
However, Bashir Hassan Farah, another ambulance medic, later said he saw 20 dead bodies, most of them civilians.
According to sources, the fatalities included the son of the hotel owner, Abdirashid Ilqeyte, who was killed in an al-Shabaab attack at the establishment in November 2015.
The bombs destroyed parts of the hotel perimeter despite layered security, and several shops and other buildings nearby were destroyed.
Sources said that several civilian minibuses and rickshaws that were passing by when the blast occurred were destroyed, and that the passengers were killed or wounded.
“There was chaos after the blast. Some of the vehicles were buses, which caught fire. I could see people screaming as they fled the buses,” witness Fadumo Ali said.
“This area is always dense and traffic jams are normal. This increased the casualties. Most of the dead and wounded were civilians,” added Awil Mohamed, another witness.
Al-Shabaab claimed the responsibility for the incidents.
“Armed members from the al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen carried [out] a complex attack targeting the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu, where senior Somali government officials stay,” the militant group said in a statement quoted by a Web site that supports al-Shabaab.
“The attack was opened with a martyrdom car bomb blast and the fighters made their way into the building,” the statement added.
Al-Shabaab were forced out of the capital by African Union troops in 2011, but they still control parts of the countryside and attack government, military and civilian targets, seemingly at will, in Mogadishu and towns in the region.
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