A suicide bomber targeting a minibus full of delegates involved in Somalia’s parliamentary elections killed at least six people in Mogadishu, the ambulance service said, as the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab armed group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The blast occurred early on Thursday as the vehicle was passing a busy junction on a road heading to the president’s office in the capital of the East African nation.
“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 told the AFP news agency.
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.
Mogadishu’s Aamin Ambulance Service confirmed the fatalities in a statement sent to journalists, but said the attack had wounded 13.
“The blast was huge, and I saw ambulances carrying wounded victims, some of them with serious injuries,” witness Mohamed Tahlil said.
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 told news agency Reuters.
“We had passed already but I understand civilians were victims.”
Al-Shabab, which aims to topple the central government and impose its own severe interpretation of Islamic law, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it killed six delegates and five police officers.
“A Mujaheed suicide bomber conducted an operation against a convoy of the apostate government. The target was the delegates selecting lawmakers,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesperson said.
Somalia’s elections for lawmakers began on November 1 and were initially supposed to end on December 24, but are currently due to be completed on February 25. The attack on delegates may present an additional challenge to the election.
According to Somalia’s indirect electoral process, regional councils are meant to choose a senate.
Delegates include clan elders who pick members of the lower house, which would then choose a new president at a date yet to be fixed.
A months-long dispute between Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble and his political rival President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has been blamed for the delayed parliamentary elections.
So far 124 of 275 lawmakers have been elected, according to data from the election commission.
The election impasse has worried Somalia’s international backers, who fear it distracts from the battle against al-Shabab, which has been fighting the weak central government for more than a decade.
Al-Shabab fighters were 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 frequently launch bombings and gun assaults in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia.
They also carry out attacks against African Union peacekeeping troops, and in neighbouring Kenya, in retaliation for the presence of its soldiers in the peacekeeping mission.