At least eight soldiers were killed and 14 others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gates of a military base in Somalia’s capital on Saturday.
Soldiers opened fire after the explosion that sent clouds of smoke into the sky, said Halima Abdisalan, a mother of three who lives near the area.
“We ran indoors in fear,” she told the Reuters news agency. “Soon I could see a military pickup speeding and carrying many soldiers covered with blood. I do not know if they were all dead or injured.”
Captain Mohamed Hussein said the death toll is expected to rise.
Ahmed Muse, a police colonel, told The Associated Press news agency the bomber struck the 12th April Army Brigade base near the newly reopened sports stadium in Mogadishu’s Warta-Nabadda district.
Witnesses said ambulance sirens could be heard as police cordoned off the scene. Huge clouds of smoke billowed from the scene of the blast.
Army officer Major Abdullahi Mohamud said it was an attack. “It must be a suicide car bomb, I am now transporting casualties,” he said.
The al-Qaeda-linked armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Claiming responsibility, the group’s military operations spokesman, Abdiasis Abu Musab, said: “We conducted a successful martyrdom operation on a major apostate military base in Mogadishu.”
“The enemy suffered many casualties and wounded, military vehicles destroyed.”
Decades of deadly violence
For more than 10 years, al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-recognised government.
The armed group used to control most parts of the country but, since 2011, its fighters have been pushed out of most large towns and cities, including Mogadishu, by Somali soldiers backed by African Union troops.
However, it has continued to carry out deadly suicide bombings and assassinations in the capital and its surrounding areas.
Last month, Somalia’s military chief escaped unhurt when an al-Shabab suicide attacker drove a bomb-laden car into his convoy in Mogadishu.
Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan strongmen overthrew leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
Since 2008, al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic law.