MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Suicide bombers set off at least two explosions at a popular restaurant in Mogadishu late Thursday, killing about 15 people including journalists and two police officers, authorities said.
The Village Restaurant is owned by Ahmed Jama, a British Somali profiled in The Times last month who has several restaurants all with the same name. The one hit Thursday is located in central Mogadishu, opposite the National Theater -- itself the target of a suicide bombing in April -- and is popular with Somali journalists and civil servants.
No group had claimed responsibility for the blasts. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militia Al Shabab, which has carried out many bombings in the capital in the past, did not issue an immediate commented.
Some witnesses reported two blasts, while others said there were three. Witnesses described a scene of mayhem, with blood spattered across the floor, the bodies of dead and wounded people strewn among the plastic chairs and cups.
The blasts came less than a week after Al Shabab targeted the country's new president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, in an attack by three bombers on a central Mogadishu hotel where he was holding a news conference. Al Shabab is bitterly opposed to Mohamud and the new government, seen by many Somalis as a last-ditch hope for peace.
Yusuf Abukar Keynan, a reporter with adjacent Radio Kulmiye, who was inside the restaurant where the bombs went off, told The Times there were three explosions.
“First I heard an explosion at the door of the cafeteria," Keynan said. "We scattered and were cowering on one side inside the restaurant when some people jumped over the chain outside the cafe. Then there was a second big, deadly explosion in the crowd. People ran toward the entrance but a third explosion hit."
"It was a terrible, extremely well-planned and cruel act," Keynan said.
Restaurant owner Jama's dream in returning from exile in Britain and building a restaurant and hotel business in Somalia was to see a country where no one had to travel around with security guards.
"The message is there is a good side to Somalia," Jama, 46, said in The Times profile last month. "There will be change here. It's a beautiful country. We need change. That's my message."
Witnesses said the dead from Thursday's attack included three journalists: Abdisatar Dahir Sabriye, news producer for the state-run Somali National TV; Liban Ali Nor, a television news editor; and Abdirahman Yasin Ali, a radio director.
Just before the blast, Radio Kulmiye news producer Sharmake Mohamed gave up his chair to one of the men killed.
"I'd been sitting in the cafe for a while," he said. "Abdisatar Dahir Sabriye was standing behind my seat, looking for a place to sit." Mohamed said he gave up his seat and left the restaurant just before the explosions.
At least five other journalists were among the wounded, witnesses said.
Somalia is the most dangerous place for journalists, with nine killed since the beginning of the year, many of them assassinated. Before the cafe bombings, the most recent killing came Sunday evening when a young freelance cameraman, Zakariye Mohamed Mohamud Moallim, was shot in the head and chest by unknown gunmen.
Thursday afternoon’s bombings happened next door to Radio Kulmiye, an independent station where noted Somali comedian Abdi Jeylani Malaq, who was known for lampooning Al Shabab, was shot to death last month.
The attack came as Kenyan forces were shelling the strategic port of Kismayo in a bid to expel Al Shabab from its most important stronghold. Al Shabab has dismissed reports its fighters had left the city, saying they remain in control.
--Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed in Mogadishu and Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa