By ABDI GULED Associated Press
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A pair of explosions rocked Somalia’s capital and left 11 people dead, the country’s police chief said Saturday, as the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility.
Another 25 people were wounded, Gen. Bashir Abdi Mohamed told reporters in Mogadishu. He said the first car bomb went off near a security checkpoint for the presidential palace and was responsible for nine deaths.
The second car bomb killed the driver and his accomplice near a checkpoint on the road to the heavily fortified airport, he said.
Al-Shabab, which often targets the capital, said the blasts were meant to strike the first line of security checkpoints for the airport and palace. The airport is home to a number of diplomatic offices. The palace is a frequent al-Shabab target.
“I was at a short distance from the blast and I saw several people dead including two women, a passenger and two men, some of whom were elderly,” witness Hussein Mohamed told the AP. “This is really very terrible.”
Al-Shabab was responsible for the horrific truck bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed more than 500 people in one of the world’s deadliest extremist attacks since 9/11 .
The United States military has dramatically increased the number of airstrikes against al-Shabab in the past couple of years, seeking to limit the territory the group controls in central and southern Somalia and make it more difficult for fighters to circulate.
In a report to the United Nations Security Council circulated last month, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres noted an increase in security operations “and a large number of airstrikes targeting al-Shabab training bases and assembly points” that were deemed to have degraded its operating capability and freedom of movement.
“They have also led, however, to increased al-Shabab movement into urban centers, in particular Mogadishu, where their forces are less likely to be targeted from the air,” he said.
Guterres added that Somalia is making progress toward building a functioning state after three decades of civil war, extremist attacks and famine but that insecurity, political instability and corruption remain major challenges.
The multinational African Union force in Somalia continues to gradually withdraw personnel in preparation for Somali government forces to assume responsibility for the country’s security. Those forces, however, have been described by U.S. military officials and others as not yet ready for the job.
Associated Press video journalist Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu contributed.