Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Somalia reels amid carnage

A huge bombing claimed the lives of over 300 Somalis, with most analysts pointing at the radical Islamist Al-Shabab group as responsible

Somalia reels amid carnage
Somalia reels amid carnage
Al-Ahram Weekly

Barely a month goes by without a deadly assault, but this week’s Mogadishu twin attack was the deadliest in terms of casualties and bloodiness

The death toll rose to 302, 15 of whom are children, with 400 injured. Somalis are calling it their 9/11 in terms of brutality. Hospitals in Mogadishu were overwhelmed and struggling to treat badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Doctors were working round the clock trying to keep their eyes open as the screams from victims and bereaved families echoed in hospital halls.

The initial vehicle bomb destroyed dozens of stalls and the popular Safari Hotel in the heart of Mogadishu. Minutes after the first blast, a second vehicle bomb went off nearby. No casualties were reported from that second blast, according to police.

Qatar’s embassy was also damaged, according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy’s charge d’affaires suffered minor injuries, the statement said.

A fragile Horn of Africa nation that reeled from one of the world’s worst attacks in years has very limited potential to withstand this scale of carnage. Authorities are in desperate need for blood donations to treat survivors. 

“We are requesting blood, we are requesting assistance for verifying the dead in order for their relatives to know,” Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told Reuters by phone from Mogadishu.

A Turkish military plane had evacuated around 35 critically wounded people to Ankara, where they were taken to hospitals for treatment. Countries including Kenya and Ethiopia have offered to send medical aid in response to what the Somali government called a “national disaster”, Abdirahman Osman said. A plane carrying a medical team from Djibouti also arrived to evacuate the wounded, according to Health Ministry official Mohamed Ahmed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although accusations are pointing to Islamist militant group Al-Shabab, which is allied to Al-Qaeda. The group stages regular attacks in the capital and other parts of the country. Violence is so pervasive that many embassies are inside the international airport.

“No other group in Somalia has the capacity to put together a bomb of this size, in this nature,” said Matt Bryden, a security consultant on the Horn of Africa.

Analysts and diplomats said the fact that the bombers must have passed several checkpoints to reach the city centre in such a conspicuous vehicle — all trucks in the centre of the city are supposed to be searched — highlighted divisions within the government, especially the security services, and the broader fragility of the state eight months after the election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The president has declared three days of national mourning.

The attack came two days after the unexpected resignation of Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed, defense minister, and Somalia’s Military Chief General Mohamed Ahmed Jimale. No explanation has been given for the officials’ departures, but in recent weeks Al-Shabab has been gaining territory. On Saturday, it took over the town of Bariire, 50 kilometres from Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region.

The group is waging an insurgency against the UN-backed government and its African Union allies in a bid to topple the weak administration and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam. Al-Shabab retains the ability to mount large, complex bomb attacks. Over the past three years, the number of civilians killed by insurgent bombings has steadily climbed as Al-Shabab increases the size of its bombs.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and had been steadily losing territory since then to the combined forces of African Union peacekeepers and Somali security forces.

The terror group has also taken the war abroad, especially to Kenya. In September 2013, Al-Shabab gunmen attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.

Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa director for the International Crisis Group, said the attack showed that “we cannot be complacent about what’s happening in Somalia,” which has not had an effective government since the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship in 1991. “It’s a clear signal that Al-Shabab is not down and out; indeed, it is escalating the war.”

Security in Somalia is guaranteed by 22,000 troops and police from Amisom. In recent months, the US has also increased its operations against Al-Shabab, working with the Somali National Army (SNA). However, the SNA is extremely factionalised, often along clan lines, and has little clear command-and-control capacity. “It is very much still a work in progress,” one Mogadishu-based Western diplomat said. 

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