At least 17 people have been killed and dozens wounded when a bomb went off outside a hotel near the international airport in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, according to security officials.
The al-Shabab armed group claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack near a busy security checkpoint outside the Afrik Hotel.
“A suicide bomber drove the rigged car into a security checkpoint … at the highway road leading to the airport,” Ahmed Bashane, police officer, told DPA news agency.
“We have collected and confirmed the bodies of 17, including the suicide bomber,” he added.
Nura Hassan, a nurse at Mogadishu’s Madina hospital, said the health facility received 27 people with injuries. About 17 of them suffered critical wounds, she told Reuters news agency.
The blast caused massive damage to places of business next to the highway and thick black smoke engulfed the area, a DPA reporter at the scene said.
Ambulance sirens echoed across the blast scene as soldiers at a nearby checkpoint fired in the air to disperse onlookers who gathered nearby and to stop motorists trying to speed through the site amid the chaos.
Other witnesses describe being knocked to the ground by the force of the blast, which damaged nearby buildings.
“I was not very far away from where the blast occurred, and I could see several people lying [on the ground], some of them dead with a pool of blood,” said one, Abdikarim Mohamed.
“The blast was huge. It did damage to several nearby buildings.”
Suado Ali was walking out of a travel agency when the shockwave knocked her flat.
“I was forced to the ground by the shockwave. I saw nearly ten people lying on the ground, some motionless and others screaming for help,” he told AFP.
The attack comes just over a week after 26 people were killed and 56 wounded in a 12-hour attack by al-Shabab fighters on a popular hotel in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo.
A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the Medina hotel on Friday before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went.
The armed group has been fighting since 2007 to topple Somalia’s fragile government, which is backed by a 20,000-strong African Union force, AMISOM.