At least 50 people were killed and more than 80 others were wounded in what seems to be the largest suicide car bombing ever in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
A suicide bomber exploded a vehicle at a busy intersection despite being fired on by security forces, as reported by government officials, medical sources and witnesses on Saturday afternoon, sending clouds of white smoke spiraling into the sky.
Most of those killed were civilians, police officer Mohamed Dahir told dpa.
Witness Ahmed Hassan described dozens of public buses destroyed as wounded survivors and panicked people sought safety.
“Dead bodies were scattered around the area,” he said. “I have never seen such a terrible attack. It is like an earthquake in terms of the destruction it has caused.”
Another witness, Abdiasis Qorane, said he had lost his car, one of over 100 cars that were burnt out in the attack. “There was a blood everywhere. My eyes could see parts of dead bodies being cut into pieces,” Qorane said.
Buildings hundreds of metres away from the explosion site were damaged, with windows and doors blown off their hinges.
While speaking to reporters at the blast site, Mogadishu’s Mayor Thaabid Abdi requested more bulldozers to recover victims from under rubble.
Somali Information Minister Abdirahman Yarisow condemned the attack on state-run Radio Mogadishu saying the militant group al-Shabaab was behind it.
“The government is working hard to collect enough information about the exact death toll of this horrific attack by the terrorists,” the minister said.
The target of the attack remained unclear, though the nearby Safari hotel is popular with Somalis returned from abroad, government workers and journalists. Security forces normally stop and search vehicles at the intersection.
Shortly after the first explosion, security forces who are based not far from the area foiled another suicide car bomber who detonated his car killing no-one but himself, according to police officer Ali Hassan.
No group has claimed responsibility for both attacks, but al-Shabaab has staged large-scale attacks in the city for many years.
Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group affiliated with the al-Qaeda terrorist network which is seeking an Islamist state in Somalia, launches regular attacks within the volatile East African nation.