An explosion tore through a graduation ceremony at a hotel in the Somali capital today and killed at least 14 people including three government ministers, witnesses and senior government sources said.
It was the worst attack in the lawless Horn of Africa nation since September 17, when hardline al Shabaab insurgents struck the main African Union military base in Mogadishu with twin suicide car bombs and killed 17 peacekeepers.
The UN-backed government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls little more than a few streets of the coastal capital. In the days ahead of today’s attack, residents said it had apparently been planning a fresh offensive against the rebels.
A Reuters reporter at the Shamo Hotel said it was packed with graduates from Benadir University, their parents and officials when the powerful blast tore through the ceremony.
"Human flesh was everywhere," he said.
Senior government sources said Health Minister Qamar Aden Ali, Education Minister Ahmed Abdulahi Waayeel and Higher Education Minister Ibrahim Hassan Addow all died in the blast. Sports Minister Saleban Olad Roble was injured.
Another witness, medical student Mohamed Abdulqadir, said at least nine students and a lecturer had also died.
"A lot of my friends were killed," he told Reuters. "I was sitting next to a lecturer who also died. He had been speaking to the gathering just a few minutes before the explosion."
Dubai-based Al Arabiya Television said one of its cameramen, Hasan al-Zubair, had also been killed.
The death toll expected to rise.
Suspicion for the blast immediately fell on the al Shabaab group, which killed Somalia’s security minister and at least 30 other people in a suicide bombing at a hotel in the central town of Baladwayne in June.
Somali government officials say al Shabaab has hundreds of foreign fighters in its ranks, and the United States accuses the Islamist group of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the country.
Western security experts say the nation has become a safe haven for militants, including jihadists from overseas, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.
Fighting has killed at least 19 000 Somalis since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.
The anarchy has also spilled into the waters offshore, where heavily armed Somali pirates have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by terrorising strategic shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia.
Pic: Al Shabaab rebels