There are believed to be at least 500 casualties from a car bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia last Saturday. Officials say this is the deadliest attack to ever occur in the Horn of Africa.
The death toll currently stands at 276, but is expected to rise as more bodies are being recovered from the rubble. Rescue workers on the ground state that it would be difficult to establish a definitive death toll. They attribute this to the intensity of the heat that was generated by the blast, which means that many of the remains will never be found.
The attack started when a truck, packed with several hundred kilograms of military-grade and homemade explosives, blew up in the heart of the city, the K5 Junction area. This area is home to many government offices, hotels and restaurants. The second bomb went off two hours later in the Medina district.
Whilst the twin attack was the deadliest ever in sub-Saharan Africa, with a much larger death toll than the Garissa University attack in Kenya in 2015 and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, it does not signify a new conflict. The bombing refocuses attention on the decade-long battle against Somalian Islamist group, al-Shabaab.
Although al-Shabaab have not yet commented on the disaster, just earlier they vowed to escalate attacks after the Trump administration along with Somalia’s newly elected President announced new military efforts to defeat the group. The U.S. mission to Somalia said, “Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.”
Sources close to the Somalian government allege that the truck had been stopped at a checkpoint and was about to be searched when the driver accelerated suddenly, crashing through a barrier. The impact caused the truck to explode and ignite a nearby fuel tanker, creating a massive fireball.
Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims.
Whilst the motive of the attack remains unclear, the international community was united in their response.
The U.S. State Department condemned the bombing “in the strongest terms,” calling it a “senseless and cowardly act.”
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sent his condolences to the Somali President and wished “a speedy recovery to the injured,” Qatar News Agency reported.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said his country “condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly attacks in Mogadishu, which have claimed so many innocent lives.”
In a tweet, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “sickened” by the attack, and his spokesman urged all Somalis to unite against extremism and work together to build a “functional” federal state.
Investigators are seeking to establish the source of the military-grade explosives used in the bombing. A source suggested they might have been stolen from Amisom, the controversial African Union peacekeeping mission which has around 20,000 troops in Somalia. However, the source of the bombing may remain unknown. Al-Shabaab has a long history of avoiding claims of responsibility for operations which it believes could damage its public image amongst ordinary Somalians.
The attack occurred two days after the head of the U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet Somalia’s President and after the U.S. had promised to step-up military efforts to defeat the group. Such timing implicates the Somalian radical Islamist group, al-Shabaab.
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