Mogadishu car bombing 'kills at least 14'

Civilians gathering near the site of a car bombing at the Wadajir market in the Madina district of Mogadishu on Feb 19, 2017.
Civilians gathering near the site of a car bombing at the Wadajir market in the Madina district of Mogadishu on Feb 19, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOGADISHU (AFP) - At least 14 people were killed on Sunday (Feb 19) when a car packed with explosives blew up near a busy intersection in Mogadishu, officials and witnesses said.

"We have counted about 14 people killed and more than 30 others wounded... the area was a busy intersection alongside the road and there were many civilians when the blast occurred," said local security official Mohamed Jilibey.

The explosion is the first big attack in the Somali capital since the election of new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed - nicknamed Farmajo - although several mortar blasts claimed by Al-Shabaab militants marred the official handover of power last week.

"The death toll is very high, more than 10 people were confirmed dead and others are wounded," said Dahir Ahmed, another official.

Witnesses said the bombing targeted an intersection in southern Mogadishu's Madina district where soldiers, civilians and traders were present.

"There were many small scale traders alongside the road and teashops and restaurants. There were also members of the security forces and shoppers and the blast was so huge that it killed nearly 20 people, most of them civilians," said witness Sumayo Moalim.

The latest attack underlines the challenge facing the new president, who has inherited an administration with limited control over Somali territory due to the presence of Shabaab, and is heavily propped up by the international community.

Farmajo's inauguration takes place on Wednesday, although he officially took office this week at a ceremony marred by a series of mortar strikes near the presidential palace which left two children dead.

African Union troops drove Shabaab militants out of Mogadishu in August 2011 but the militants continue to control rural areas and launch repeated attacks in the capital.

In the week before the election on Feb 8 at least 28 people were killed when Shabaab militants struck a popular hotel in the capital.

And jitters over security meant MPs gathering to elect Farmajo last week had to meet in the capital's heavily secured "green zone" style airport compound.

Farmajo, whose brief stint at prime minister in 2010-11 showed him to be a no-nonsense leader set on improving governance and cracking down on corruption, is hugely popular in the country.

However turning around one of the world's foremost failed states will be no easy task.

"I need the Somali public to understand how much the government is in need of their support. The government will need enough time to address things," the President said during the handover ceremony.

Somalia's limited election process, in which only several thousand delegates voted for lawmakers, is seen as a step toward full democracy for the country, which has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre's military regime in 1991, which led to civil war and decades of anarchy.