An armed man stands guard at the scene of two explosions in Mogadishu yesterday.
MOGADISHU: At least 18 people were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu yesterday when two blasts rocked a popular restaurant, police said, in attacks quickly claimed by Shebab Islamists.
“There were two heavy explosions at a parking lot near the National Theatre,” police officer Mohamed Adan said. “At least 18 people were killed,” said Mohamed Dahir, another police officer. Witnesses saw 12 bodies at the scene of the attack, a popular restaurant called the Village.
“Successful operations carried out in Hamarweyne,” the Shebab said on their Somali-language Twitter feed, referring to the Mogadishu district where the attacks occurred. The group’s English-language account has been suspended.
The Al Qaeda-linked Islamists claimed to have killed “key officials”, but witnesses said the casualties they had seen looked like ordinary civilians.
The attacks — a car bomb followed by a suicide bomber who detonated his vest — drew condemnation from the UN and the Somali president.
“I am appalled by this act of savagery and condemn it in the strongest terms. I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wish a speedy recovery to the injured,” said the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay.
“The terrorist elements used to claim they target Somali government (officials) but such an attack is proof they have no sympathy for anyone, they kill innocent civilians at restaurants,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told a press conference.
Police and witnesses said the first blast was a car laden with explosives that was parked outside the Village, a restaurant close to the theatre that was targeted by suicide bombers in September 2012.
“Minutes after the bomb went off, I saw severed flesh flying past,” said Idris Yusuf, who was in the restaurant at the time of the attack and who sustained slight leg injuries. Nearby buildings were destroyed, the witness said, and passers-by came running over to help the victims.
The second blast, minutes later, was a “suicide bomber who blew himself up in the crowd of civilians who rushed to the scene of the first blast,” Ahmed Weli Said, a Somali government security official said.
The National Theatre re-opened in 2012 after two decades. Just weeks later, Shebab insurgents struck, with a suicide bomber blowing herself up and killing two of the country’s top sporting officials who were attending an event there.
Somalia’s embattled government, selected in November in a UN-backed process, was hailed at the time by the international community as offering the best chance for peace in Somalia since the collapse of the central government in 1991.
A 17,700-strong African Union force fighting alongside the national army has forced Shebab fighters from several towns in the past two years.
Shebab fighters, who have claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks aimed at overthrowing the government, remain a potent force, however. AFP