The visiting delegation of Qataris, who were travelling in the Somali interior minister’s bullet-proof vehicle, were “safe”, a security officer said. The minister was not in the car at the time. The Islamist rebel group al Shabaab said it was behind the attack and threatened further strikes against Somalia’s government.
“More explosions are on the way,” al Shabaab’s military spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said.
The al-Qaeda-linked rebels, who want to impose their version of Islamic law, or sharia, on the country, have kept up a campaign of guerrilla-style attacks since African peacekeepers pushed them out of bases in the city and other major towns.
Western powers, long worried Somalia is a launch pad for militant Islam in east Africa and beyond, fear it could slide back into chaos if security forces cannot cement security gains.
The blast tore through the busy Kilometre 4 road junction in the centre of Mogadishu’s commercial and administrative district, hurling metal debris over a wide area. Nearby buildings were blackened and power cables hung loose from poles.
It was not clear in the confusion that followed the blast how many people had been killed. A co-ordinator for Mogadishu’s emergency services said ambulances had carried away the 15 bodies.
Earlier, the chairman of the city’s Hodan district, where the attack took place, told reporters at the blast site that eight people had died.
“A silver 4x4 sped around the roundabout blaring its horn as it chased the convoy,” college student Abdullahi Ismail said at the scene, nursing a cut in his forehead. “It hit the last car in the convoy.”
Qatar has been forging closer political ties with Somalia in recent years as it seeks to expand its influence in the Horn of Africa region.
Yesterday’s bomb was a stark reminder of two decades of civil strife in a country where the central government depends heavily on a near 18,000-strong African peacekeeping force for its survival.
Parts of Mogadishu were in lock-down last week after security officials received a tip-off about an imminent attack, but security was relaxed on Saturday.
The Kilometre 4 intersection connects the city’s fortified airport, where the UK opened an embassy on 25 April, with the presidential palace, parliament and other ministries. The state of Somalia’s security forces will top the agenda at a conference in London tomorrow.
Britain and Somalia are hoping to use the event to drum up more international support at a time when al Shabaab are weakened as a fighting force but can still inflict devastating strikes.