Police said a car bomb went off Saturday in Mogadishu’s city center, followed by a second blast nearby.
Initial police reports put the death toll in the blasts, which occurred at or near a checkpoint about 400 meters (yards) away from the Somali president’s residence, at between five and 15.
“The first suicide car bomb at the checkpoint killed five people, mostly security soldiers. Four others were injured. Death toll may rise. It is too early to have details of second blast,” Major Mohamed Hussein told Reuters.
Col. Ahmed Mohamud, another security official, told The Associated Press that Somali soldiers and civilians were among the casualties.
Read more: US airstrikes hit al-Shabab rebels in Somalia, killing 62
Police said that government officials and lawmakers were near the site of the blasts.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s bombings.
At least 53 people were killed in a series of blasts in Mogadishu on November 10, a day after al-Shabab militants detonated four car bombs and attacked a popular hotel in the Somali capital.
Violence and lawlessness have spiked in the African country since dictator Muhammad Siad Barre’s government was toppled in the early 1990s.
Read more: Life in Somalia under peacekeepers and al-Shabab threats
The truck was loaded with explosives and detonated at a busy junction in the heart of Mogadishu in the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The explosion of the bomb killed at least 276 people and injured hundreds more. It was the worst terror attack in the history of Somalia. Nearly three decades of civil war and terror have also robbed the population of its resilience to drought.
Xamdi is a child of Somali nomads and has been in the nutrition ward of Mogadishu’s Banadir Hospital since the beginning of August. Her mother feeds her with the peanut-based ‘Plumpy’Nut’ paste to avoid severe acute malnutrition. Xamdi is three years old and only weighs seven kilograms. Most kids in Germany in the same age group weigh twice as much. About 800,000 Somalis are facing starvation.
This boy recovers in the bed next to Xamdi. He is fighting pneumonia, one of the all too common infections caused by chronic malnutrition and overcrowded conditions in Mogadishu’s refugee camps. His hands are wrapped in paper to prevent him from pulling out his feeding tube. Banadir Hospital is the biggest public clinic in the capital, but even here the collapse of the health system is visible.
Mogadishu is full of makeshift homes. Many nomads and countryside dwellers are determined to stay. They have fled civil war, terror, violence and hunger. The city’s population has swollen to nearly 2.5 million. At least 600,000 are officially regarded as ‘internally displaced people’.
The congested and unhygienic living conditions in the camps are a health hazard. Acute respiratory tract infections and diarrhea are common diseases among Mogadishu’s internally displaced population. Life in the makeshift camps is a daily struggle for the next meal and the next bucket of water.
There is not much to do inside the camps but to sit and wait. Many children don’t have access to education. Most makeshift camps lack playgrounds or other recreational spaces.
There is much hardship outside the camps, too. The old part of Mogadishu is particularly pockmarked by nearly three decades of internal conflict. But there are also signs of new beginnings.
Early September 2017: These youngsters are having a good time in Mogadishu’s Peace Park. All of them are students, all of them express faith in the new government of western-backed President Mohamed. One of them wants to become a civil aviation engineer. He says: “It is much safer here than five years ago.” Five years ago al-Shabab ruled the capital. Today the extremists send suicide bombers.
Right at the entrance to Peace Park, visitors are reminded to leave behind Kalashnikovs, knives, hand grenades and pistols.
Liido beach draws huge crowds especially after Friday prayers. People meet to dance and play soccer. Soccer is hugely popular in Somalia. Young lovers meet to court each other. Mogadishu’s Liido beach was deserted under al-Shabab’s brief rule of the capital.
The international community has started to invest in rebuilding Somalia’s shattered state. Reconstruction is most visible in the capital. This new street was built with Turkish help. Turkey has also set up a huge military base in Mogadishu to train Somali soldiers.
New villas spring up throughout town. Somalia’s returning diaspora invests in Mogadishu’s booming property market. So do politicians and other strongmen. Many of the new buildings are surrounded by high blast walls and concertina wire to fend off terrorists, criminals and rivals.
The airport region has become the expats’ hub. Like Baghdad and Kabul, Mogadishu has a green zone. The United Nations and most of the returning diplomatic missions live and work in the vast compound which has developed around Mogadishu’s International Airport. It is fenced off and guarded by African Union troops.
Most of Mogadishu’s shopfronts sport hand-painted murals which add some much-needed color to a city slowly rising from its ruins.
Modern billboards are also conquering the streets, advertising online shopping for Arab fashion or application details for private educational institutions.
The city’s new attractions are out of reach for the many displaced people and the poor. Somalia’s progress and stability will depend on the state’s ability to win the trust of its people. Right now nearly seven million people, which is about half the country’s population, depend on humanitarian aid.
More than half of Somalia’s population is under 18. The majority of citizens were born after the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 — the pivotal event that caused the country to become a failed state. The capital’s youth, if not engaged meaningfully, often feel disenfranchised, adding to Somalia’s continued vulnerability.
shs/tj (Reuters, AP, dpa)