A suicide car bomb blast has killed at least eight people at a security checkpoint near the presidential palace in the Somali capital, in an attack claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group.
The checkpoint falls on the route to the airport in Mogadishu, used by Somalia’s president and prime minister.
Police spokesman Abdifatah Aden Hassan told reporters at the scene the number of casualties in Saturday’s attack could be higher as some of the dead and wounded were taken away by relatives after the attack targeting a convoy going into the palace.
“Al-Shabab is behind the blast. They killed eight people including a soldier and a mother and two children. Al-Shabab massacres civilians,” he said.
In a brief statement, the group confirmed it was behind the bombing.
“The mujahideen carried [out] a martyrdom operation targeting the main security checkpoint of the presidential palace,” it said.
Al-Shabab, which wants to overthrow the government and impose its interpretation of Islamic law, frequently carries out such bombings.
“We have confirmed that eight people, most of them civilians, died and seven others wounded in the car bomb blast,” district police chief Mucawiye Ahmed Mudey said.
Al-Shabab controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops, but it still holds territory in the countryside and launches frequent attacks against government and civilian targets in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
A witness on Saturday said the car bomb was detonated when police stopped the driver for a security check.
“They normally stop to check and clear vehicles before they can pass by the checkpoint. This car was stopped by the security guards and it went off while there were several other cars and people passing by the nearby road. I saw wounded and dead people being carried,” said witness Mohamed Hassan.
Government spokesman Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu said among those killed was Hibaq Abukar, a women and human rights affairs adviser in Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble’s office.
“She was one of the pillars of PM’s office [for] women affairs,” he said on his Facebook page.
Roble condemned the attack and paid tribute to Abukar, whom he called “a young hard-working vibrant girl with honesty” as well as a “devoted citizen.”
“We have to cooperate in the fight against the ruthless terrorists who regularly kill our people,” he added.