Twin Car Explosions Kill More than 20 in Somalia

NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 20 people were killed and 30 others injured when two car bombs shelled a city in central Somalia, a Somali official said Thursday, the latest attack to illustrate how an Islamist terror group remains deadly even when it loses. territory in the midst of a large-scale government offensive.

The two blasts hit a residential area of ​​Mahas, a city in the Hiran region, on Wednesday. Mumin Mohamed Halane, Mahas District Commissioner, told state radio that the first bomb was detonated in front of his house and that the second had the house of a deputy as its target.

Many nearby houses were damaged, leaving some potential survivors trapped.

“Most of the dead are women and children,” Halane told Radio Mogadishu.

Al Shabab, an extremist group that pledges allegiance to al Qaeda, was quick to claim responsibility for the blasts, claiming they had killed 87 people, including military officers and soldiers.

Authorities did not release an official death toll, but a senior Somali government official said more than 20 people had been killed and 30 others injured. Media reports put the death toll at 35, with 40 injured. More than two dozen wounded were airlifted for treatment in the capital Mogadishu, said the Somali official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The attack comes months after a wide-scale government campaign aimed at fighting the terror group, which has wreaked havoc in Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa area for more than a decade and a half.

After being elected president in May, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared all-out war against al Shabab, vowing to limit its geographic reach and cut off its money. The group, believed to command between 7,000 and 12,000 fighters, extorts business and rakes in millions of dollars in revenue each year.

In the latest offensive, the government was backed by several local clan militias in addition to African Union peacekeeping forces. It has also received help from the United States, which has used drone strikes to target Shabab fighters.

But the authorities also issued a directive limiting local media reporting on al Shabab’s activities, a move that human rights groups and press freedom organizations has said threatens freedom of expression.

Authorities say the military campaign has been increasingly successful, with government forces killing hundreds of militants and seizing dozens of towns and villages, mainly in southern and central Somalia. In recent weeks, state media have televised a public parade of youths who say the authorities defected of the group

The Shabab has responded ferociously, carrying out increasingly deadly attacks across the country.

Last August, it carried out one of its longest and most sustained attacks, a 30-hour siege on a hotel in the capital that killed 21 people and wounded 117 others.

In October, it claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the central city of Beledweyne that killed at least 20 people and injured dozens more, and that same month it carried out the deadliest terror attack in Somalia in five years, killing to 121 people. and injuring almost 300 more people in the explosion of a sister vehicle that affected the Ministry of Education.

In a drought-stricken nation where millions face hunger and famine, authorities say the group also burned trucks carrying food supplies, destroyed wells and damaged electrical and telecommunications equipment.

After Wednesday’s attack, Somali officials were defiant about their efforts to defeat the group. President Hassan and Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre held separate talks with Western and African diplomatsWith Somali security officersto discuss how to collaborate in the fight against Al Shabab.

Ali Gudlawe Hussein, regional president of Hirshabelle state, where the city of Mahas is located, called on people to unite against the group.

“We will never stop eradicating them”, Mr. Hussein told state radio.