MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened more terror attacks that will “increase day by day” after a suicide bomber killed 72 people. Mourners transported coffins atop cars Wednesday to funerals for those who perished in al-Shabab’s deadliest bomb attack in Somalia.
A truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of a building housing several government ministries in a busy street in the capital, to which tens of thousands of famine victims have fled. The attack came more than a month after most al-Shabab fighters melted away from Mogadishu amid a pro-government offensive, and it showed that the insurgents remain a severe threat.
“At this time, when the country is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis, the terrorists could not have attacked the Somali people at a worst time,” Information Minister Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed said.
Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage identified the suicide bomber as Somali student Bashar Abdullahi Nur. He said the attack was a warning to those who thought the group had left Mogadishu for good in August.
“We wish to inform the Muslim people that the campaign against infidels will be back-to-back and by God’s grace will increase day by day and will increase in the coming hours,” Mr. Rage said. “I will give a good tiding to the infidels: You will face big and broad blows.”
In a prerecorded farewell interview with al-Shabab radio station, the bomber said: “It will be a big blow to the heart of the enemy.”
Tuesday’s thunderous blast covered the city in dust more than a half-mile away and left blackened corpses sprawled amid burning vehicles and dozens wounded. Somalia‘s Ministry of Health said in a statement Wednesday that 72 people had been killed and more than 100 wounded, including 38 still in serious condition.
“May Allah put them in hell,” one Somali woman sobbed as a young man tried to comfort her. She then collapsed near the coffin of her dead son that was placed by a sandy grave.
Sadiya Omar, who lost her husband in Tuesday’s bombing, left the scene of the funeral before he was interred, saying it was more than she could bear.
“The world will get no peace while killers like al-Shabab are still here,” she cried, her tears dripping through her black veil.
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed declared three days of mourning and vowed late Tuesday that his government would put in place security measures to avert future bombings.
“I’m sure the crime they committed against the Somali people will not go unpunished,” Mr. Ahmed said of the al-Shabab militants. “God will punish them, and the government will take appropriate measures to save the Somali people from those dangers.”
However, Mr. Ahmed’s government does not have sufficient troops or police to secure the capital, nor does the more than 9,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force that supports his regime.
Somali expert Ken Menkhaus said in a recent interview that al-Shabab’s withdrawal from the city would overextend the AU forces, exposing the government’s inability to hold and govern territory and allowing the militants to mount hit-and-run attacks.
The head of the African Union peacekeepers appealed for more troops in August to secure Mogadishu following the al-Shabab’s withdrawal. Maj. Gen. Fred Mugisha said that since the withdrawal, his forces cover a larger area and risk being overstretched. He said the deployment of 3,000 extra troops authorized by the U.N. Security Council should be hastened.
Tuesday’s blast killed students and their parents who were gathered around a notice board to learn about the result of scholarships offered by the Turkish government.
“It shows their barbarism and how hellbent they are to hit the public where it hearts most,” he said. “We can certainly say their ideology is directed at annihilating Somali people. What they’re targeting is the education.”
Gen. Mugisha, the commander of the African Union Mission to Somalia force, known as AMISOM, said the attack targeted several Somali government institutions.
Al-Shabab said it was striking government officials and foreigners — a reference to AU peacekeeping troops.
The U.N. Security Council called the attack a “heinous crime.” In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was a “despicable and cowardly act.”
Somalia has been mired in violence since 1991, plunging the country into a chaos that sprouted militants and piracy off the coast of Horn of Africa nation.
Malkhadir M. Muhumed reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press writer Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.