Wave of bombings leave nearly 20 dead, dozens injured in Somalia

Rescuers carry the body of an unidentified man killed at the scene of an explosion at a checkpoint near Somalia's parliament and interior ministry in Mogadishu, on March 25, 2018.
Rescuers carry the body of an unidentified man killed at the scene of an explosion at a checkpoint near Somalia's parliament and interior ministry in Mogadishu, on March 25, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (NYTIMES) - Three explosions over four days in or near the Somalian capital have left a trail of carnage, killing nearly 20 people and injuring dozens of others, as Islamic militants unleashed a wave of attacks on the country.

On Sunday (March 25), a car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint near the Interior Ministry on a road leading to the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu. At least three people, in addition to the bomber, were killed, a police chief said.

The blast sent a plume of black smoke billowing above the skyline.

The police chief, General Bashir Mohamed Jama, said that five other people had been injured in the blast and that authorities had thwarted two other suicide bombing attacks on Sunday morning.

Al-Shabaab, an Islamic extremist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had killed 13 members of the security forces, although that could not be independently verified.

The group, which has been behind bombings and other attacks in Mogadishu, aims to topple Somalia's Western-backed federal government.

Earlier on Sunday, another car bomb exploded in Siinka Dheer, outside Mogadishu, but the toll was not immediately clear. Some reports said that one person had been killed, along with the driver.

The wreckage of a vehicle is seen at the site of the car bomb explosion which killed at least four people outside of the Somali parliament in Modadishu, on March 25, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Mogadishu's mayor, Mr Abdirahman Omar Osman, also known as Yariisow, condemned the attacks, saying, "These terror acts will not stop us."

Dr Abdulkadir Adan, from Mogadishu's only emergency services unit, said, "Our vehicles and rescue teams immediately reached the Sayid checkpoint to rescue civilian injured at the scene."

Mr Mohamed Abdulle, a resident of Mogadishu, said in a phone interview on Sunday, "I personally saw and counted the deaths of three people; they were civilians."

He added, "I could also see many motorbikes and cars, which were completely burned and destroyed by the blast."

The explosions occurred days after a bomb went off outside the Weheliye Hotel in the city, killing at least 14 people, mostly young entrepreneurs, and injuring at least 10 others on Thursday afternoon, according to police and rescue services.

Mr Abdiasis Ali Ibrahim, spokesman for the internal security minister, confirmed the death toll to the state-run Radio Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab also claimed responsibility for that attack.

The second car bomb on Sunday was detonated at a checkpoint after soldiers stopped a suspicious vehicle, senior police Captain Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press.

Those who died included two soldiers, he said, while many of the nearly 10 people wounded were rickshaw drivers.

Officer Mohamed Abdi told the AP that the earlier explosion that day had occurred after soldiers inspected another "suspicious" car that was stuck on a road in the Siinka Dheer area.

Somalia suffered one of its deadliest attacks in October, when a double truck bombing killed 512 people.

The attack came as the United States, under President Donald Trump, has made a renewed push to defeat Al-Shabaab, which has terrorised Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa for years, killing civilians across borders, worsening famine and destabilising a broad stretch of the region.

Last year, the country's President, Mr Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, declared war on the militant group even as he offered amnesty to its fighters, whom he referred to as "brainwashed youth". But the wave of attacks has continued.

US forces have stepped up efforts against Al-Shabaab, with the military carrying out about 30 airstrikes in Somalia last year, twice as many as in 2016.

In 2017, the Pentagon presented the White House with an operational plan that envisioned at least two more years of combat against Islamic militants there, with the US military handing over the country's security to Somalia's forces. But officials have said that Somali forces are not yet ready.