NAIROBI, Kenya. A violent blast outside a school in the Somali capital on Thursday killed at least eight people and injured 17 others, police said. This was the latest in a series of deadly attacks as Somalia faces a tense election period and a huge humanitarian crisis.
A car filled with explosives exploded at around 7:30 am, attacking a convoy belonging to a security firm that guards United Nations personnel, according to Abdifat Aden Hassan, a police spokesman. According to him, no UN staff member was injured as a result of the explosion.
Somali Memo, a news website linked to the al-Shabab extremist group linked to al-Qaeda, said the group claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place on a key road in the northwestern Khodan district of the capital city of Mogadishu. The area is home to many schools, restaurants and the residence of the former president.
At least 13 students from one of these schools, Mokaasir, were injured in the blast. Photographs and videos from the scene show crumpled school buses and badly damaged classrooms.
“If schools and educational institutions are not free of targets, then this is a real tragedy,” said Abdulkadir Adan, founder of Aamin Ambulance, a free ambulance service that was one of the first to respond to the scene.
“Now students and teachers are faced not only with physical trauma, but also with psychological trauma,” he added.
In recent weeks, the Shabab militant group has intensified its attacks, carrying out suicide bombings in Somalia, ambushing and killing journalists, government officials, police and foreign peacekeeping forces.
At least two people were killed in early November in Mogadishu when a suicide bomber attacked a military convoy belonging to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Last week suicide bomber killed Mogadishu state radio director Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled, whom the militants said they had been “hunting” for a long time.
African Union chief of mission Francisco Cayetano Jose Madeira told the UN Security Council last week that Shabab has increased attacks on polling centers and “increased public executions of individuals working with Somali security forces and AMISOM personnel.”
Authorities and analysts say the armed group is exploiting the many economic, political and security challenges facing Somalia. The worsening drought is currently affecting about 2.6 million people in 66 of the country’s 74 districts, according to the United Nations. On Tuesday, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble announced state of emergency and appealed to the international community for increased humanitarian assistance.
Somalia in the Horn of Africa has also been hit by massive Desert Locust infestations and the ongoing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, political leaders continue to argue over the protracted, controversial elections. A general election, slated for early this year, was postponed after President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed attempted to extend his rule in what opponents called a power grab. With MPs voting in recent weeks, many observers have pointed to accusations of vote-buying and manipulation.
Many Somalis are also concerned about the possible withdrawal of the African Union peacekeeping force, whose mandate will expire on 31 December. While the mission is expected to continue in one form or another, significant military reductions will occur following the early withdrawal of US forces. This year, according to Somali authorities and analysts, the country could take over Shabab this year. Despite years of foreign funding and training, experts believe that Somalia’s own security forces are not fully capable of stabilizing the country or protecting its people.
“Somalia is in a delicate moment right now,” said Omar S. Mahmoud, senior Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“Al-Shabaab has always been opportunistic about his violence, especially when politicians are either distracted or consumed by internal fights,” he said. “In that sense, now is the right time to move to increase the pace of their attacks, especially in Mogadishu.”
Hussein Mohamed provided reports from Mogadishu, Somalia.