NAIROBI, Kenya – A large explosion outside a school in Somalia’s capital on Thursday killed at least eight people and injured 17 others, police said. It was the latest in a series of deadly attacks as Somalia faces a tense election period and a massive humanitarian crisis.
A vehicle full of explosives exploded around 7:30 a.m. targeting a convoy belonging to a security company guarding United Nations personnel, according to Abdifatah Aden Hassan, a police spokesman. No UN personnel were injured in the blast, he said.
Somali Memo, a news website affiliated with the al-Qaida-affiliated extremist group Al Shabab, said the group took responsibility for the attack, which took place on a major road in the northwestern Hodan district of the capital Mogadishu. The neighborhood is home to many schools, restaurants, and the residence of a former president.
At least 13 students from one of those schools, Mocaasir, were injured in the explosion. Photos and videos of the scene showed mangled school buses and badly damaged classrooms.
“If schools and learning places are not exempt from 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 on the scene.
“The students and teachers now face not only physical injuries, but also psychological trauma,” he added.
Shabab’s militant group has stepped up its attacks in recent weeks, carrying out suicide bombings, ambushes and killings of journalists, government officials, police and foreign peacekeepers in Somalia.
At least two people were killed in Mogadishu in early November when a suicide bomber targeted a military convoy of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Last week, a suicide attack murdered the director of state-owned Radio Mogadishu, Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled, whom the militant group said they had been “hunting” for for a long time.
Last week, African Union mission chief Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira told the UN Security Council that the Shabab had ramped up attacks on election centers and “the public execution of individuals who collaborated with Somali security forces and AMISOM personnel” had increased.
Authorities and analysts say the armed group is taking advantage of the numerous economic, political and security problems facing Somalia. According to the United Nations, an increasing drought is now affecting about 2.6 million people in 66 of the country’s 74 districts. On Tuesday, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble stated that state of emergency and appealed to the international community for increased humanitarian aid.
Somalia, in the Horn of Africa, has also been hit by a widespread plague of desert locusts and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, political leaders continue to argue over lengthy, highly contested elections. A general election scheduled for earlier this year was postponed after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed sought to extend his rule in what opponents called a power grab. As voting for lawmakers kicked off in recent weeks, many observers have pointed to allegations of vote-buying and manipulation in the process.
Many Somalis are also concerned about the possible departure of the African Union peacekeeping force, whose mandate ends on December 31. While the mission is expected to continue in one form or another, a significant reduction in military forces following the early withdrawal of US troops could see the Shabab take over the country this year, Somali officials and security analysts say. 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 currently at a delicate moment,” said Omar S. Mahmood, Somalia senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“Al Shabaab has always been opportunistic with his violence, especially when political actors are distracted or consumed by internal squabbles,” he said. “In that sense, it is an opportune time for the movement to step up the pace of its attacks, especially in Mogadishu.”
Hussein Mohamed contributed from Mogadishu, Somalia.