MOGADISHU: At least six people were killed Thursday in a suicide car bomb attack targeting a United Nations convoy close to Mogadishu’s heavily fortified international airport, officials said.
Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab rebels, who are fighting to overthrow the country’s internationally backed government, told AFP that one of their suicide bombers carried out the attack.
The bomb went off near a checkpoint at the entrance to the airport complex, which also houses the base of AMISOM – the African Union force fighting Al-Shabab rebels – as well as a number of foreign diplomatic missions and United Nations offices.
A statement from UNSOM, the U.N. mission in Somalia, said the bomb went off near a convoy of vehicles shortly after midday.
“A U.N. car was damaged but no U.N. staff were injured. Four Somali security escorts were lightly injured,” UNSOM said, expressing “deep sorrow at the reported deaths and injuries of Somali bystanders.”
Police and witnesses said the victims included Somali guards, passers-by and shop owners.
“At least six people, most of them civilians, died in the car bomb explosion. There are many casualties, serious injuries. We are still investigating the incident, the toll could rise,” a Somali police official, Said Mohamed, told AFP.
An Al-Shabab spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.
“This was an operation carried out by Al-Shabab. It was a brother who took a sacrificial act to defend the people of Somalia,” Al-Shabab military spokesman Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Abu Musab told AFP.
“The target was a U.N. convoy,” he said, claiming “several invaders” were also killed.
Another witness told an AFPTV journalist at the scene that as many as 14 people were killed and saw six others being taken away to hospital. An AFP photographer saw the burning wreckage of a vehicle and several destroyed shops.
“I saw and counted at least 14 people, including women working small restaurants, who were killed and also I saw six wounded people,” said one eyewitness, Mohammad Abdi.
“The bomb inflicted more casualties on the people at shops and small restaurants,” said another witness, Mahad Kuuriya.
The airport is considered to be among the safest parts of Mogadishu and is ringed by checkpoints and large numbers of armed guards.
A number of foreign diplomatic missions are based inside the huge airport complex, which has also been used to house a number of U.N. staff since a city-center compound was attacked by the Al-Shabab last year.
British Ambassador to Somalia Neil Wigan, whose embassy is within the high-security airport complex, said he had heard a “major explosion” that sent smoke into the air.
The attack comes amid an apparent upsurge of Al-Shabab bombings in and around Mogadishu. Earlier this week the group carried out twin bombings inside the city, targeting government officials.
Al-Shabab once controlled most of southern and central Somalia but withdrew from fixed positions in the ruined coastal capital two years ago.