23 killed, 30 hurt as bomb on truck ex­plodes in So­ma­lia

At­tack comes just two weeks after blast that claimed 350

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD - By Abdi Guled

MOGADISHU, So­ma­lia — A sui­cide truck bomb ex­ploded out­side a pop­u­lar ho­tel in So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal on Satur­day, killing at least 23 peo­ple and wound­ing more than 30, and gun­fire con­tin­ued as se­cu­rity forces pur­sued other at­tack­ers in­side the build­ing, po­lice said. Two more blasts were heard, one when an at­tacker det­o­nated a sui­cide vest.

Capt. Mo­hamed Hus­sein said 30 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, were res­cued from the Nasa­H­ablod ho­tel as heavy gun­fire con­tin­ued in the stand­off be­tween ex­trem­ists and se­cu­rity forces. Three of the five at­tack­ers were killed, Hus­sein said. The oth­ers hurled grenades and cut off the build­ing’s elec­tric­ity as night fell.

Satur­day’s blasts came two weeks after more than 350 peo­ple were killed in a mas­sive truck bomb­ing on a busy Mogadishu street in the coun­try’s worst-ever at­tack.

Al-Shabab, Africa’s dead­li­est Is­lamic ex­trem­ist group, quickly claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for Satur­day’s at­tack and said its fight­ers were in­side the ho­tel.

Among the dead were a mother and three chil­dren, in­clud­ing a baby, all shot in the head, Hus­sein said. Other vic­tims in­cluded a se­nior So­mali po­lice colonel, a for­mer law­maker and a for­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ter. Footage from the scene showed twisted ve­hi­cles and nearby build­ings with only walls left stand­ing.

Mo­hamed Dek Haji said he sur­vived the bomb­ing as he walked be­side a parked car that was largely de­stroyed by the ex­plo­sion. He said he saw at least three armed men in mil­i­tary uni­forms run­ning to­ward the ho­tel after the bomb­ing at its gate.

“I think they were alShabab fight­ers who were try­ing to storm the ho­tel,” he said, ly­ing on a hos­pi­tal bed. He suf­fered small in­juries on his shoul­der and skull from fly­ing glass.

Wit­nesses in some pre­vi­ous at­tacks have said alShabab fight­ers dis­guised them­selves by wear­ing mil­i­tary uni­forms.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say Satur­day’s bomber had pre­tended his truck had bro­ken down out­side the gate. Po­lice Col. Mo­hamed Ab­dul­lahi says the bomber stopped out­side the heav­ily for­ti­fied ho­tel and pre­tended to re­pair the truck be­fore fi­nally turn­ing it around and det­o­nat­ing.

Al-Shabab of­ten tar­gets high-pro­file ar­eas of Mogadishu. It has not com­mented on the mas­sive at­tack two weeks ago; ex­perts have said the death toll was so high that the group hes­i­tated to fur­ther anger So­mali cit­i­zens as its pur­sues its in­sur­gency.

So­ma­lia Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ab­dul­lahi Mo­hamed said the new at­tack was meant to in­still fear in So­ma­lis who united after the Oct. 14 at­tack, march­ing in the thou­sands through Mogadishu in de­fi­ance of al-Shabab.

Since the blast two weeks ago, the pres­i­dent has vis­ited re­gional coun­tries to seek more sup­port for the fight against the ex­trem­ist group, vow­ing a “state of war.” He also faces the chal­lenge of pulling to­gether re­gional pow­ers in­side his long-frac­tured coun­try, where the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is only now try­ing to as­sert it­self be­yond Mogadishu and other ma­jor cities.

Farah Abdi Warsameh pho­tos / Associated Press

A So­mali sol­dier in­spects wreck­age after a truck bomb det­o­nated Satur­day in Mogadishu, So­ma­lia. Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said the bomber pre­tended his truck had bro­ken down out­side the gate of a pop­u­lar ho­tel.

So­ma­lis carry away a man in­jured in the bomb­ing. Al-Shabab, Africa’s dead­li­est Is­lamic ex­trem­ist group, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack.

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