SOMALIA: Rescue workers scramble to help victims of truck bombing
REPORTING FROM MOGADISHU, SOMALIA and JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Rescue workers on Tuesday scrambled to free trapped victims and collect body parts from the rubble after a suicide truck bomber killed at least 70 people at the entrance to a government compound in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
It was the deadliest attack yet claimed by Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-linked group that has been fighting Somalia's weak United Nations-backed transitional government since 2007.
“Somalis, we warn you: Keep away from government buildings and the bases of their soldiers, more serious blasts are coming,” Al Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud told reporters, according to Reuters.
The bomber, who was driving a truck laden with fuel barrels and explosives, detonated his cargo after stopping at a checkpoint outside the compound housing several government ministries, including the Education Ministry.
Members of the transitional government were meeting inside when the blast occurred at about 11 a.m. But most of those killed or injured were soldiers guarding the compound or students waiting for the results of an exam for scholarships to Turkey, according to witnesses and rescue workers.
Smoldering bodies lay on the ground, which was littered with twisted and blackened debris. People used sheets and rugs to carry them away, according to photographs from the scene. Reuters reported that dozens of people who had been burned in the attack had to walk to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Ambulance coordinator Ali Muse told news agencies that at least 70 people were killed and 42 were injured. “It is the worst tragedy I have ever seen in the capital,” he told the Associated Press.
No senior officials were hurt in the attack, according to a statement from the transitional federal government, which has controlled the capital with African Union support since Al Shabab pulled out most of its fighters in August.
The militant group, which controls the country's famished south, at the time described the withdrawal as a tactical change and promised further attacks.
"The attack shows that the danger from terrorists is not yet over and that there are obviously still people who want to derail the advances that the Somali people have made toward peace," the government said in the statement.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, despite numerous attempts to establish one. The transitional authorities recently announced a plan for presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.
Somalia is the worst-hit country in East Africa's unfolding hunger crisis. The U.N. has declared famine in six regions of Somalia, mainly in the south, as the country faces its worst drought in decades.
-- Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed in Mogadishu, Somalia and Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa
Photo: A cloud of smoke is seen after a suicide attack in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, on Tuesday. Credit: AFP/Getty Images