Massive explosion in Somalia’s capital kills at least 76

A huge explosion rocked Somalia’s capital on Saturday morning, killing at least 76 people.

The blast appeared to target the morning rush hour at a busy tax collection center located near one of two checkpoints that control all entry and exit from the city. While no group had yet claimed the attack, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia al-Shabab has regularly attacked government institutions around the country.

Abdulkadir Adan, the director of Aamin Ambulance, the city’s main ambulance service, said his teams had recovered 76 bodies from the scene and that dozens more were severely wounded.

A government spokesman, Ismail Mukhtar, said the dead included university students and police officers. A Somali officer at the Turkish embassy confirmed the deaths of two Turkish nationals who worked for a private company called En-Ez Construction that was working on the road that was attacked.

Omar Mohamud, Mogadishu’s mayor, told reporters gathered near the blast site that at least 90 civilians, mostly students, had been injured in the explosion. Witnesses described a macabre scene.

“When the explosion happened, I was coming out of a nearby tea shop. With my own eyes, I have seen pieces of human beings and blood scattered around,” said Osman Abdulle, a police sergeant. “I have collected the bodies of my fellow policemen, who I recognized. I have also seen a university bus reduced to ashes.”

Another witness, Abdisalam Halane, said he had heard the blast and rushed toward it, hoping to help friends in the police force who were stationed at the checkpoint. He counted at least 20 bodies on the ground, but said that many of them had been ripped apart. “Blood and the remains of bodies were everywhere,” he said.

Somalia’s government nominally controls Mogadishu, but regular attacks by al-Shabab give the city of 2.5 million people the feel of a contested area. Al-Shabab operates extensively throughout rural parts of southern and central Somalia, and is estimated to have around 10,000 fighters.

The U.S. military keeps around 500 personnel in Somalia, largely as part of a mission to train Somali special forces. Some U.S. Special Forces accompany Somali counterparts on ground missions. The U.S. military has carried out more than 60 airstrikes this year, mostly targeting al-Shabab, continuing a three-year uptick since the Trump administration loosened the rules of military engagement in Somalia, allowing for more aggressive use of force. (Courtesy Washington Post)