A massive explosion hit Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, on Friday, shattering windows in buildings and sending debris flying, during morning rush hour, the latest in a series of such attacks in a nation struggling to stem decades of bloody violence.
The explosion in the Mogadishu’s busy central business district came just before 10 a.m. and sent dust and broken glass flying over areas that had been the target of similar bombings in the last year. Shops in the area were closed.
The explosion shattered the windows of businesses, sending debris flying. Police and rescue workers rushed to the scene, while residents and passers-by used wood to dig through the debris. The nearby government-run Amina hospital put the death toll at 48 people.
Emad Hassan Abdi, a guard at the Mogadishu Safari Hotel, said he saw one body close to the blast site, though it was difficult to tell which one. He said he and other security guards in the hotel complex rushed to their room windows to see if anyone was hurt or dead.
“We heard an explosion close to our house and smoke engulfed the city in such a way that it had black dust and made our eyes water,” said Abdirahman Absalar, a driver. “I parked my taxi several meters away and when I rushed back the vehicle it caught fire,” he said.
Explosions have become a routine in Mogadishu, though government and security officials are often quick to attribute such attacks to al-Shabab extremists. Al-Shabab is waging an often violent campaign to overthrow the government and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam. In recent months, the extremist group has stepped up attacks on hotels and areas of the capital that it considers strongholds.
Islamist militants also have carried out bombings in other parts of Somalia and in neighboring Kenya, to provide funding to the group.
On June 5, a truck bomb killed more than 500 people and injured at least 2,000 in the central Somali town of Kismayo. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for that attack, which weakened the central government, which is also fighting al-Shabab.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Friday’s explosion, which he called a “heinous attack” on a civilian population.
Somalia’s government and the international community are seeking to boost the ability of the security forces to stabilize the country, nearly 20 years after the extremist militia swept into the capital. Al-Shabab is believed to have a large number of foreign fighters among its ranks.
The African Union-led peacekeeping force in Somalia has been struggling to push al-Shabab out of cities and towns. Al-Shabab, which seeks to topple the Somalia government and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam, continues to carry out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and across the rest of the Horn of Africa nation.
Late last month, Al-Shabab fighters stormed into the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, a day after a similar militant attack in Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital that left 67 people dead. Somalia’s government and AU forces responded to the attack with attacks of their own and killed several militant leaders in subsequent clashes.