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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Mogadishu lorry bombing death toll rises to more than 300

The death toll will continue to rise, the Mogadishu ambulance chief says

Somali government forces secure the scene of the bombing in Mogadishu. Feisal Omar / Reuters
Somali government forces secure the scene of the bombing in Mogadishu. Feisal Omar / Reuters

Two bomb explosions in the centre of Somalia's capital Mogadishu killed at least 300 people in the deadliest attack since an Islamist insurgency began in 2007, observers said on Monday.

Somali officials had put the death toll at over 200 on Sunday without giving a firm number following the blasts that exploded at two busy junctions on Saturday.

"We have confirmed 300 people died in the blast," Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of the city's ambulance service, told Reuters.

"The death toll will still be higher because some people are still missing."

Aden Nur, a doctor at the city's Madina hospital, said they had recorded 258 deaths while Ahmed Ali, a nurse at the nearby Osman Fiqi hospital, told Reuters five bodies had been sent there.

"160 of the bodies could not be recognized and so they were buried by the government yesterday. The others were buried by their relatives. Over a hundred injured were also brought here," Dr Nur said.

The government said that 300 have been injured by the massive truck bomb that caused scenes of carnage and widespread devastation in war-torn Somalia.

Mogadishu's mayor Tabid Abdi Mohamed also visited those wounded in the blast and said the horror of the attack was "unspeakable".

"There is no tragedy worse than when someone comes to the dead body of their relative and cannot recognise them."

"The deadliest attack ever"

Hundreds of people, chanting anti-violence slogans and wearing red or white bandanas around their heads in a show of grief, took to the streets of Mogadishu to condemn the deadly attack that has shocked Somalians.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but Al Shabab, the militant group aligned with Al Qaeda, has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in its bid to overthrow Somalia's internationally-backed government.

"Somalia Federal government confirmed that 276 people were killed in the blast ... and 300 others wounded people were admitted at the different hospitals in Mogadishu," the country's ministry of information said.

"There is still national rescue operation," ongoing the ministry said in a statement, adding that there would be "national mourning and prayers for the victims" in the coming days.

Police official Ibrahim Mohamed said that many of the victims were "burned beyond recognition" in what he described as "the deadliest attack ever".

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Rescuers worked through the night to try to pull bodies from the rubble after the truck bomb exploded outside of the Safari Hotel on a busy road junction, levelling buildings and leaving many vehicles in flames.

"This is the most painful incident I can remember," the deputy speaker of the Somali Senate Abshir Ahmed said in a Facebook post after visiting the Medina hospital where many of the victims had been taken.

"We have seen what the terrorists can mercilessly do by shedding the blood of innocent civilians," Mohamed told the protesters after they ended their march at a square in southern Mogadishu. "We need to stand united against them".

Activist Abukar Sheik added: "There is no house in which people are not crying today."

International condemnation

Saturday's blast was universally condemned, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and by the US, Britain, Canada, France, Turkey and the African Union.

"We are deeply saddened by the two terrorist bombings in the capital Mogadishu and the resulting deaths and injuries. We express our strong condemnation of this terrorist act," Saudi's King Salman in a letter to the Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has expressed the "Emirates’s denunciation of such terrorist acts and its firm support for the government of Somalia in facing violence and extremism".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara was sending planes "with medical supplies", adding that the wounded would be flown to Turkey and treated there. The country is a leading donor and investor in Somalia.

The US military said it was ready to boost its support for the Somali government following the attack.

"We will be prepared to support the government of Somalia when they ask," the Pentagon said. "We are planning what we can provide."

The explosion occurred at a junction in Hodan, a bustling commercial district which has many shops, hotels and businesses in the city's north-west.

Security officials said hundreds of people had been in the area at the time of the blast, with police saying it was difficult to get a precise number of victims because the bodies had been taken to different medical centres while others had been taken directly by their relatives for burial.

As the rescue work continued, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, declared three days of mourning as he visited the attack site and then met with some of the wounded at a nearby hospital.

"Today's incident was a horrible attack carried out by Al Shabab against innocent civilians that was not aimed at specific Somali government targets," he said in a televised address to the nation.

"This shows how these violent elements are ruthlessly and indiscriminately targeting innocent people."

"Whole area destroyed"

Although the Safari Hotel was popular, it was not one frequented by government officials -- which have often been targeted by Shabaab militants.

The devastation caused was widespread. Muhidin Ali, a Mogadishu resident who was close by at the time said it was, "the biggest blast I have ever witnessed, it destroyed the whole area."

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani wrote on Twitter that the country's embassy had been badly damaged in the blast and one of its top officials wounded.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Somali Journalists said a freelance cameraman, Ali Nur Siyaad, had been killed and four other journalists wounded in the explosion.

The Red Cross in Somalia said five of its volunteers had also been killed during the blast many others wounded.

The Shabaab was forced out of the capital six years ago by African Union and Somali troops, and subsequently lost control of major towns across southern Somalia.

However, the militants continue to control rural areas and launch attacks on military, government and civilian targets in Somalia, as well as terrorist raids in neighbouring Kenya.

Saturday's blast came two days after Somalia's defence minister and army chief both resigned from their posts without explanation.