Around 11 people were killed in Somalia’s capital Sunday when a suicide attacker from the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents rammed a car laden with explosives into a convoy carrying officials from Qatar, police said.
“Several people have been killed, the blast was big … the number of those killed is around 11,” police official Mohamed Adan said.
Four government officials visiting from Qatar were travelling in armoured vehicles belonging to the interior ministry when the convoy was attacked, but were unharmed.
“The convoy was escorting a delegation from Qatar, the police escorted them to a safe area after they survived the attack,” General Garad Nur, a senior police commander, told reporters.
The blast is the latest in a string of bloody attacks in the seaside capital, where Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents have vowed to topple the government and have set off several bombs and launched guerrilla-style strikes.
“The mujahedeen have today carried out the first of a series of attacks,” the Shebab said in a message on Twitter.
The car exploded close to a police station at the central K4 roundabout, a busy part of Mogadishu where many people gather to drink tea at roadside stalls.
Other police officials said that at least 10 people had been killed.
“I saw eight bodies including a woman, some of them were burned very badly by the fire from the explosion,” said eyewitness Ali Yusuf. “It was a terrible sight.”
An AFP reporter on the scene said that the armoured car hit in the attack had been damaged with its back windows blasted out.
Body parts were strewn around the blast site, where fire trucks sprayed water on the smouldering wreckage of the vehicles while several wounded were taken to hospital.
A second bomb hidden by the roadside and remotely detonated was set off around the same time in the Daynille district of Mogadishu targeting passing security forces, but injured no one, police added.
The attacks come just ahead of a conference in London on Tuesday to draw up plans to boost security and increase development in conflict-torn Somalia.
More than 50 countries and organisations are due to take part in the talks, co-hosted by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The United Nations special representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga condemned the attack as “cowardly and senseless”, but said that such “acts of violence will not undermine the remarkable progress Somalia has made in the past months.”
The attack comes a day after senior Shebab commander Ahmed Abdi Godane released an audio message in which he urged “the mujahedeen to increase the number of martyrdom operations, so as to permanently cripple the weak apostate regime.”
Last month, the Shebab launched a show of force in a complex coordinated attack, killing at least 34 as suicide commandos stormed the main courthouse while a car bomb was set off elsewhere in Mogadishu.
While riven by infighting and hunted by US drones, the extremists remain a potent threat, launching car bombs and assassinations, and are still powerful in rural areas as well as reportedly infiltrating the security forces.
The insurgents recently released a series of photographs of masked gunmen flying black flags in front of machine guns mounted on trucks around the southern Somali port of Barawe, one of their few remaining strongholds.
The attack on Sunday comes after a week-long major security operation in the capital, with police closing down roads and searching cars for explosives.
A force of some 17,000 African Union troops are fighting alongside Somali government forces against the Shebab, forcing them from a series of key towns.
The AU force has played a key role in propping up the government, viewed by many as the first credible administration in the lawless country since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.