At least six people were killed in Mogadishu, Somali’s capital early on Thursday by a suspected suicide bombing at a restaurant near a security checkpoint leading to the presidential palace, the ambulance service said.
The suicide bomber targeted a minibus that was passing a busy junction on a road heading to the president’s office. The bus was full of delegates involved in Somalia’s parliamentary elections.
“The area was densely populated when the blast occurred and some of the victims, most of them civilians, are seriously wounded,” security official Abdullahi Muktar said. He said six people died and 12 were injured.
“The incident is still (being) investigated to know the exact details but preliminary observation we have indicates that someone carried out the blast,” he said.
Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack saying it killed six delegates and five police officers.
Al Shabaab aims to topple the central government and impose its own severe interpretation of Islamic law.
Mogadishu’s Aamin Ambulance Service confirmed the fatalities in a statement sent to journalists, but said the attack had wounded 13.
A delegate on the bus said the passengers were unharmed.
“We were in the bus passing the junction and I could see someone running towards the bus and police shouting at him ‘stop’ at gunpoint. Then we heard two gunshots and a blast,” Saado Abdillahi, one of the delegates said.
“We had passed already but I understand civilians were victims.”
Somalia’s elections for lawmakers initially scheduled for November 1 to December 24 are currently due to be completed on February 25 because of long-running disagreements between Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble and his political rival President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
The attack on delegates may present an additional challenge to the election.
The election impasse has worried Somalia’s international backers, who fear it distracts from the battle against Al-Shabaab that was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 after an offensive by an African Union force, but still control vast swathes of rural Somalia from where they launch regular attacks in the capital and elsewhere.
So far 124 of 275 lawmakers have been elected, according to data from the election commission.