The al-Shabab armed group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s enormous car bombing in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu that killed at least 81 people, while the national security agency said the attack “was planned by a foreign country”.
The attack hit a busy checkpoint in the southwest of the city, leaving vehicles charred and twisted at a crossroads, the deadliest assault in two years in the Horn of Africa country.
Dozens more were wounded in the traffic-clogged area because of the security checkpoint and a tax office collecting fees from trucks and buses.
“… the mujahideen carried (out) an attack … targeting a convoy of Turkish mercenaries and apostate militia who were escorting them,” al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio message.
Among the dead were 16 students from the private Benadir University whose bus was passing through the crossroads as the bomb detonated.
Mogadishu is regularly attacked by al-Shabab, which has fought for more than 10 years to topple the Somali government.
But, for the first time, al-Shabab apologised to the civilian victims of the attack, which it justified as necessary in the fight against the Somali state and its foreign backers.
“We are very sorry about the casualty that was inflicted on our Somali Muslim society, and we are extending our condolences to the Muslims who have lost their lives and or (were) wounded and or had their property destroyed.”
Al-Shabab does not usually claim attacks that cause such high casualty rates among the civilian population, for fear of losing the support they still enjoy with some Somalis.
The message also accused Turkey of trying to control Somalia’s resources. Among the casualties were Turkish nationals.
Turkey is a large donor and investor in Somalia, especially in humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Turkish companies manage Mogadishu’s port and airport.
Meanwhile, Somalia’s national security agency, Nisa, said the attack was planned outside the country.
Nisa wrote in a tweet that it had given the government a preliminary report on the attack. It did not name the country and has not made the report public.
However, it added: “To complete the ongoing investigation, we will seek assistance from foreign intelligence agencies.”
The death toll increased to 81 on Monday after two victims died from their wounds, the Somali Information Ministry said.
One of the new fatalities was among the injured who had been evacuated to Turkey via a Turkish military plane on Sunday.
Saturday’s attack was the biggest to hit Somalia since a truck exploded in 2017 near a fuel tanker in Mogadishu, creating a fireball that killed more than 500 people.
In 2010, al-Shabab declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda. But its fighters fled positions they once held in the capital Mogadishu, and have since lost many strongholds.
They retain control of large rural swaths of the country and continue to wage a war against the authorities, managing to inflict bloody attacks at home and abroad.
The US military said on Sunday it had killed four “terrorists” in three air attacks aimed at al-Shabab.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said two fighters were killed and two vehicles destroyed in Qunyo Barrow, while two more fighters were killed in Caliyow Barrow.
In an April statement, AFRICOM said it had killed more than 800 people in 110 attacks in Somalia since April 2017.