At least 12 civilians have been killed in a suicide attack targeting African Union troops in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, the first serious assault by suspected Islamic extremists after the killing of al-Shabab’s top leader in a US air strike last week.
The attack happened near the Elasha Biyaha settlement, said Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, the governor of Lower Shabelle.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car next to a convoy of African Union forces moving near two minibuses, said Somali police official Hassan Ali.
Then, amid the confusion, another bomb went off when a second suicide attacker rammed his car into a convoy escorting Abdifatah Shaweye, the Mogadishu intelligence commander, who was in the area to inspect the scene of the first blast. Mr Shaweye suffered “slight wounds” and was rushed to a Mogadishu hospital. There were no fatalities from the second blast, Mr Ali said.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack in a radio broadcast.
Somalia’s government warned over the weekend that there is a probability of attacks following the killing of Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was confirmed dead by the US on Friday following a Monday air strike.
Possible targets include medical and educational institutions, said Gen Khalif Ahmed Ereg, Somalia’s national security minister, in a televised speech on Friday.
Mortar shells struck a Mogadishu neighbourhood on Sunday, the day after al-Shabab named a new leader and vowed to avenge the death of Godane.
Al-Shabab said in a statement over the weekend that it remains aligned with al Qaida, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors statements by Islamic militant groups.
“Avenging the death of our scholars and leaders is a binding obligation on our shoulders that we will never relinquish nor forget no matter how long it takes,” said the al-Shabab statement, according to SITE.
Godane, who was also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, was al-Shabab’s spiritual leader. The US had offered a reward of up to seven million dollars for information leading to his arrest.
Godane had publicly claimed al-Shabab was responsible for an attack on a mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed a year ago.
Backed by African Union forces, Somali government troops recently launched a military offensive aimed at ousting al-Shabab militants from their last strongholds in southern Somalia, including the coastal city of Barawe, where military officials say al-Shabab plots attacks across Somalia.
Scores of people have been killed this year, including politicians who are being targeted for assassination.