Security officers gather at the scene of a suicide car bomb explosion near… (Elyas Ahmed / European Pressphoto…)
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Ten people died and more than 15 were wounded Monday in a suicide bombing close to the presidential palace in the capital, according to Somali officials.
The attack in central Mogadishu targeted a vehicle carrying Somali intelligence chief Khalif Ahmed Ilig and other officials. But most of the dead were traveling in a commuter minibus that took the brunt of the blast when it passed between the suicide bomber's car and a government vehicle just as the bomb exploded, according to Somali officials.
Ilig survived the blast, receiving minor injuries, officials said. It was not immediately clear whether they included the suicide bomber among the 10 dead.
Al Shabab, a group of Al Qaeda-linked insurgents fighting the Somali government, posted an online statement claiming responsibility.
“One of our martyrs carried out a suicide attack against the head of intelligence in the apostate government, Khalif Ahmed Ilig, who has collaborated with Western intelligence,” the statement said.
Al Shabab made no mention of the civilian victims.
In the aftermath of the blast, pieces of human flesh, torn metal and car parts lay scattered across the road. The bomber's car was almost totally destroyed, while the minibus was a burned-out shell.
The bombing was one of the worst attacks since President Hassan Sheik Mohamud took office last year. It took place in a major thoroughfare lined with popular restaurants and cafes, injuring some people in a nearby cafe.
Col. Hassan Mohamed, a police spokesman, said most of the victims were in the minibus. "It seems that the haters of peace were targeting the government officials,” he said.
Mohamed Bootole Saed, the driver of another commuter minibus who witnessed the attack, said the damaged minibus was passing the suicide bomber's car when the blast went off.
"A wall, a tea shop and two small shops collapsed from the blast," resident Farah Abdulle told Reuters news service. "I could see injured people being pulled from under these places."
Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said Somalia's progress toward peace had gone too far to be derailed by Al Shabab.
“The truth is that daily life is more peaceful and Mogadishu is more secure than it has been for over 20 years,” the prime minister said. “New Somali businesses are opening almost daily as our brothers and sisters from the diaspora vote with their feet and return to Mogadishu.”
He said Al Shabab was on its way out, having been pushed out of its previous strongholds in Somalia. “These misguided attempts to derail us will have no effect,” the prime minister said.
Al Shabab abandoned the capital in August 2011 after an offensive by African Union forces. Kenya invaded Somalia later that year to drive the militants away from its border and the insurgents have since been forced out of key towns and ports in southern Somalia. Al Shabab lost control of the port of Kismayu in September.
A new parliament took office in August and elected Mohamud in a bid to overcome decades of clan warfare, lawlessness and Islamist extremism.