Death toll from twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu rises to 276
The most powerful bomb blast ever witnessed in Somalia’s capital killed 276 people with around 300 others injured, the country’s information minister said on Monday, making it the deadliest single attack in this Horn of Africa nation. The toll was expected to rise.
Hospitals were overwhelmed a day after a truck bomb targeted a crowded street near key government ministries, including foreign affairs.
As angry protesters gathered near the scene of the attack, Somalia’s government blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group for what it called a “national disaster.” However, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, which often targets high-profile areas of the capital, had yet to comment.
Al-Shabab earlier this year vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia’s recently elected president announced new military efforts against the group.
The Mogadishu bombing is one of the deadliest attacks in Sub-Saharan Africa, larger than the Garissa University attack in Kenya in 2015 and the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Ambulance sirens still echoed across the city as bewildered families wandered in the rubble of buildings, looking for missing relatives.
“In our 10 year experience as the first responder in #Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this,” the Aamin Ambulance service tweeted. Grief overwhelmed many.
Inside, bleary-eyed nurses transported a man whose legs had been blown off. He waited as surgeons attended to another badly injured patient. Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open, while screams from victims and newly bereaved families echoed through the halls.
“Nearly all of the wounded victims have serious wounds,” said nurse Samir Abdi. “Unspeakable horrors.” The smell of blood was strong.
“There’s nothing I can say. We have lost everything,” wept Zainab Sharif, a mother of four who lost her husband. She sat outside a hospital where he was pronounced dead after hours of efforts by doctors to save him from an arterial injury.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo declared three days of national mourning and called for donations of blood and funds to victims of Saturday’s attack.
“I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate,” he said.
Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabab, was stunned by the force of Saturday’s blast. The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government’s ability to secure the seaside city of more than 2 million people.
“They don’t care about the lives of Somali people, mothers, fathers and children,” Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said of the attackers. “They have targeted the most populated area in Mogadishu, killing only civilians.”
Police said a truck bomb exploded outside a hotel in the K5 intersection that is lined with government offices, restaurants and kiosks, flattening several buildings and setting dozens of vehicles on fire.
Two hours later, another blast struck the capital’s Medina district.
On Sunday, police and emergency workers searched the rubble of destroyed buildings. They also recovered dozens of corpses the night before, most of which were charred beyond recognition.
Hundreds of people came to the junction in search of missing family members and police cordoned off the area for security reasons.
The Islamist militant group al-Shabab, which is allied to al-Qaeda, stages regular attacks in the capital and other parts of the country.
The group is waging an insurgency against the UN-backed government and its African Union allies in a bid to topple the weak administration and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam.
The militants controlled Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011 but withdrew as fighting raged. African Union peacekeepers also drove them out of most other territory they controlled.
The United States condemned the bombing, saying “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.” It tweeted a photo of its charge d’affaires in Somalia donating blood.
But the US Africa Command said US forces had not been asked to provide aid. A spokesman said that first responders and local enforcement would handle the response and “the US would offer assistance if and when a request was made.”
The US military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country.