MOGADISHU: Several people were killed yesterday in a suicide car bomb blast in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, officials said. The attack was claimed by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, which said in a brief statement that it was targeting “foreign officers”. It took place only days after Somali leaders had agreed on a new timetable for long-delayed elections in the troubled Horn of Africa country.

The government said in a statement on Twitter that it condemned the “cowardly” suicide attack, and gave a toll of four dead and six injured. “Such acts of terrorism will not derail the peace & the ongoing development in the country. We must unite in the fight against terrorism.” Local government security officer Mohamed Abdi had earlier told AFP that at least six people were killed.

“It has also caused devastation in the area,” he said, warning that the toll could be higher because a large number of people were in the area. The United States, the largest foreign donor to Somalia’s embattled government, condemned the attack and extended its sympathies to the families of those killed and injured.

‘Destroyed buildings’

Witnesses said a multi-vehicle private security convoy escorting foreigners was passing by the area in southern Mogadishu when the explosion hit. “I saw some of the passengers injured and being carried after the blast,” said one witness, Osman Hassan. Another witness, Hassan Nur, said: “The blast was so huge that it has destroyed most of the buildings nearby the road and vehicles passing by the area. “I saw several dead and wounded people strewn in the road.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia said contrary to early reports “there were no UN personnel or contractors in the convoy targeted in the suicide attack”. Somalia has been in the grip of a political crisis since February last year after the president’s term expired before fresh elections were held. A disagreement over the election process set off a bitter power struggle between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, and his Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.

Under a deal announced late Sunday after talks between Roble and state leaders, parliamentary polls are now due to be concluded by February 25 – more than a year behind schedule. The agreement appeared to ease the standoff between Roble and Farmajo, who said in a statement late Monday that he applauded the “positive result” on the election timetable.

The crisis had set alarm bells ringing in the international community, which fears the election impasse further threatens the stability of a fragile country still battling a violent insurgency by Al-Shabaab. “The United States is prepared to draw on relevant tools, potentially including visa restrictions, to respond to further delays or actions that undermine the integrity of the process,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.

The Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists have been waging a deadly campaign against the weak central government since 2007 but were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 after an offensive by an African Union force. However the militants retain control of vast rural areas of Somalia, from which they frequently launch deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere against civilian, military and government targets. – AFP