Twin Car Explosions Kill More than 20 in Somalia

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NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 20 people were killed and 30 others wounded when twin car bombings hit a town in central Somalia, a Somali official said Thursday, the latest attack to illustrate how an Islamist terrorist group remains deadly even as it loses territory amid a large-scale government offensive.

The two explosions hit a residential area of Mahas, a town in the Hiran region, on Wednesday. Mumin Mohamed Halane, the district commissioner of Mahas, told state radio that the first bomb was detonated in front of his house, and that the second one targeted the home of a lawmaker.

Many nearby homes were damaged, leaving some potential survivors trapped.

“Most of the dead are women and children,” Mr. Halane told Radio Mogadishu.

Al Shabab, an extremist group that swears allegiance to Al Qaeda, was quick to claim responsibility for the blasts, asserting that it had killed 87 people, including military officials and soldiers.

The authorities did not release an official figure of casualties, but a senior Somali government official said that more than 20 people had been killed and 30 others injured. Media reports put the death toll at as high as 35, with 40 wounded. More than two dozen of the injured were airlifted for treatment in the capital, Mogadishu, said the Somali official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter with the news media and so spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The attack comes months into a large-scale government campaign aimed at battling the terrorist group, which has wreaked havoc across Somalia and the larger Horn of Africa area for more than a decade and a half.

After he was elected president in May, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared an all-out war on Al Shabab, vowing to limit its geographical reach and cut off its money. The group, which is thought to command about 7,000 to 12,000 fighters, extorts businesses and collects millions of dollars in revenue every year.

In the latest offensive, the government has received backing from several local clan militias in addition to African Union peacekeeping forces. It has also received assistance from the United States, which has used drone strikes to target Shabab fighters.

But the authorities have also issued a directive limiting local news media reporting on Al Shabab’s activities, a move that rights groups and press freedom organizations have said threatens free speech.

Officials say the military campaign has been increasingly successful, with government forces killing hundreds of militants and seizing dozens of towns and villages, mostly in south and central Somalia. In recent weeks, state media have televised a public parade of young men who the authorities say defected from the group.

The Shabab has responded with ferocity, carrying out ever-deadlier attacks across the country.

Last August, it conducted one of its longest and most sustained attacks, a 30-hour siege at a hotel in the capital that killed 21 people and wounded 117 others.

In October, it claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the central town of Beledweyne that killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens of others, and later that month, it carried out the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia in five years, killing 121 people and wounding nearly 300 others in a twin-car explosion that struck the Ministry of Education.

In a drought-ravaged nation where millions face hunger and starvation, officials say the group has also burned trucks carrying food supplies, destroyed wells and damaged electricity and telecommunication equipment.

After the attack on Wednesday, Somali officials remained defiant about their efforts to defeat the group. President Hassan and Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre both held separate discussions with Western and African diplomats, along with Somali security officials, to discuss how to collaborate on the fight against Al Shabab.

Ali Gudlawe Hussein, the regional president of Hirshabelle State, where the town of Mahas is, called on people to unite against the group.

“We will never give up on eradicating them,” Mr. Hussein told state radio.


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