At least 18 people were killed in the Somalian capital Mogadishu on Saturday when two blasts rocked a popular restaurant in attacks quickly claimed by Shebab Islamists, police said.
“There were two heavy explosions at a parking lot near the National Theater,” police officer Mohamed Adan told reporters.
“At least 18 people were killed,” said another police officer, Mohamed Dahir.
An Agence France-Presse reporter saw 12 bodies at the scene of the attack, a popular restaurant called the Village.
“Successful operations carried out in Hamarweyne,” the Shebab said on their Somali-language Twitter feed, referring to the Mogadishu district where the attacks occurred. The group’s English-language account has been suspended.
The al-Qaeda-linked Islamists claimed to have killed “key officials,” but witnesses said the casualties they had seen looked like ordinary civilians.
The attacks — a car bomb followed by a suicide bomber who detonated his vest — drew condemnation from the UN and the Somalian president.
“I am appalled by this act of savagery and condemn it in the strongest terms. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said.
“The terrorist elements used to claim they target Somali government [officials], but such an attack is proof they have no sympathy for anyone, they kill innocent civilians at restaurants,” Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told a press conference.
Police and witnesses said the first blast was a car laden with explosives that was parked outside the Village, a restaurant close to the theater that was targeted by suicide bombers in September last year.
“Minutes after the bomb went off, I saw severed flesh flying past,” said Idris Yusuf, who was in the restaurant at the time of the attack and who sustained slight leg injuries.
Nearby buildings were destroyed, the witness said, and passersby came running over to help the victims.
The second blast, minutes later, was a “suicide bomber who blew himself up in the crowd of civilians who rushed to the scene of the first blast,” said a Somali government security official, Ahmed Weli Said.
The National Theater re-opened last year after two decades. Just weeks later, Shebab insurgents struck, with a suicide bomber blowing herself up and killing two of the country’s top sporting officials who were attending an event there.
Somalia’s embattled government, selected in November last year in a UN-backed process, was hailed at the time by the international community as offering the best chance for peace in Somalia since the collapse of the central government in 1991.
A 17,700-strong African Union (AU) force fighting alongside the national army has forced Shebab fighters from several towns in the past two years.
However, Shebab fighters, who have claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks aimed at overthrowing the government, remain a potent force.
Their most brazen recent attack was a suicide-commando assault on a fortified UN compound in the center of Mogadishu in June that killed 11.
The UN compound attack used similar tactics to those employed in April, when a nine-man suicide commando unit blasted its way into Mogadishu’s main court complex, killing 34 people.
On July 12, just a couple of days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, insurgents killed at least five people in multiple attacks in the capital. A suicide bomber rammed an AU convoy and a grenade was thrown into a hotel.
Shebab fighters claimed members of their suicide brigade carried out the attack, calling it “a martyrdom operation targeting a convoy of crusaders.”