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Islamic militancy

Somalia blast kills 39 as Islamists threaten ‘vicious war’ against new president

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 9:38pm

The toll has climbed to 39 dead in an unusually deadly suicide bombing at the weekend in the Somali capital Mogadishu, rescue workers said on Monday, the first since a new president was chosen this month.

Al-Shabab Islamists have threatened to escalate attacks in a “vicious war” against the new government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – nicknamed Farmajo, and the vehicle exploded at an intersection packed with civilians, traders and security forces.

“39 people died and 27 others were wounded,” Abdukadir Abdurahman Adem head of Mogadishu’s Amin Ambulance service, said on Monday.

Final death tolls in attacks in Somalia are difficult to establish, as relatives, public and private ambulances ferry the injured and dead away.

“There were many small-scale traders alongside the road and tea shops 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 al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group had not claimed the attack, however it came on the same day as the group threatened to wage “vicious war” against Farmajo and his new government, according to the SITE intelligence group which monitors jihadist accounts.

The president, via Twitter, described the attack as “horrific” and shared pictures of himself visiting victims in hospital. Local media also reported he had offered a US$100,000 reward for information on who carried out the attack.

A senior al-Shabab official, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub Ali, said in a speech broadcast on a radio station linked to the group, that Farmajo was considered more dangerous than past presidents as he held joint American citizenship.

The blast brought international condemnation, with the European Union describing it as “yet another act of terror targeting the Somali people by those wanting to undermine progress towards a stable and secure Somalia”.

The bloc added it stood behind Farmajo’s efforts to bring security to his nation and build strong institutions.

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 al-Shabab, 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 al-Shabab mortar strikes near the presidential palace which left two children dead.

Somalia 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.