MOGADISHU // Islamist militants detonated a truck bomb on Tuesday in front of the education ministry in Somalia's capital, killing at least 70 people and wounding dozens, a rescue official said. Among the dead were students and parents.
It was the biggest attack in Somalia's capital since the Al Qaeda-linked group known as Al Shabab withdrew most of its forces in August amid an offensive by African Union forces and as a famine gripped much of the country.
The truck blew up after coming to a halt at a security checkpoint at the entrance to the Ministry of Education, said Ali Hussein, a police officer in Mogadishu. After the thunderous blast, blackened corpses were sprawled on the debris-strewn street amid burning vehicles. Uniformed soldiers dragged the wounded from the hellish scene.
Ali Abdullahi, a nurse at Medina hospital said they were treating people with horrific wounds, including amputated limbs, burns, and patients who became blinded.
"It is the most awful tragedy I have ever seen," he said. "Imagine dozens are being brought here minute by minute. Most of the wounded people are unconscious and others have their faces blackened by smoke and heat."
Ali Muse, the chief of Mogadishu's ambulance service, said at least 70 people had died and at least 42 others were wounded.
"The explosion has not only affected the targeted place, but even passer-by people and car passengers died there. The death toll may increase and we are still carrying many dead bodies" he said.
In a statement, the government gave a death toll of 15. It was not immediately clear if it was an early count.
"The casualties are mostly students and parents who were waiting for results of scholarships from the Ministry of Higher Education," the government said. "The attack shows that the danger from terrorists is not yet over and that there are obviously still people, who want to derail the advances that the Somali people have made towards peace."
Al Shabab immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Our mujaheddin fighters have entered a place where ministers and Amisom foreigners stay," Al Shabab said, referring to the Ugandan and Burundian forces who make up the African Union peacekeeping mission.