A large blast was heard in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu Sunday, the result of an apparent car bomb targeting an anti-terror unit trained by the United States.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Blast Appears to Have Been a Car Bomb
When the “huge blast” was heard at approximately 5:15 p.m. local time, witnesses reported a plume of smoke rising over the city’s Waaberi district.
According to local reports, a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into another car, driven by Gashaan anti-terror troops.
As Somali police official Ahmed Adan told the AFP:
“There was a car bomb explosion near the Afisiyone area. We are getting information that a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a pickup truck.”
2. ‘American Puppet’ Anti-Terror Troops Were Targeted
Witnesses at the scene said the car bomb specifically targeted government security forces. Al-Queda-linked al-Shabaab has taken credit for the attack. According to a Somalia military spokesman, “American puppets” were the specific target, perhaps referring to the country’s elite, U.S.-trained, Gashaan unit.
Al-Shabaab spokesperson Abu Musaab told al-Jazeera that the group intended to kill “white mercenaries.”
According to Musaab:
“We conducted an operation against the apostates – including white mercenaries – in Mogadishu. There were heavy casualties. We will give more details later.”
The Gashaan, trained by the U.S., has been cited by U.S. officials as an effective security force.
According to U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman:
“This is a 150-person unit that we believe can become a source of future leadership for the entire army.”
The attack took place near the offices of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), and some sources suggest that spy agency may have been the real target. The Gashaan (“shield”) is the NISA security wing.
3. The Attack May Be Retribution
There have been a series of recent attacks in the longstanding fighting between al-Queda-backed separatists and Somali government forces, including air strikes carried out by U.S. forces against terrorist millitants.
Al-Shabaab insurgents killed at least 12 people and wounded 27 others, on September 8, of last year using a similar tactic, ramming a vehicle packed with explosives into a convoy of troops in Mogadishu.
Four days ago, a U.S. airstrike targeted a senior leader of Somalia’s al-Shabaab terror group. Officials identified the target as Abdishakur Tahlil, chief of intelligence for al-Shabaab.
According to Mark Wright, spokesperson for the Department of Defence, “The strike took place in the vicinity of Saacow, Somalia.
Then, two days later, al-Shabaab attacked a military base.
“Al-Shabaab attacked our base unexpectedly, early in the morning today. We lost seven soldiers,” Somali Captain Ahmed Idow told Reuters at the time.
4. Civilians Are Among the Victims
Though the specific targets are thought to be Somalia anti-terror troops, the blast, in the area of a market and an airport, may have injured civilians as well.
Four people were killed, with one soldier injured, Somali government spokesman Ridwan Hajji Abdiweli said via twitter. “It is inhuman to attack innocent people,” he said.
Initial reports put the death toll at at least three, with at least 10 people injured, including civilians.
Somali Captain Mohamed Hussein told the Associated Press that most of the casualties were pedestrians walking along the road.
5. Al-Shabaab Is a Known Terror Group
Al-Shabaab has been identified as a terrorist group, and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since the Somali Council of Islamic Courts took over most of southern Somalia in 2006.
According to the National Counter Terrorism Center:
The group was likely responsible for a wave of five coordinated suicide car bombings in October 2008 that simultaneously hit targets in two cities in northern Somalia, killing at least 26 people.
The group also claimed credit for the 2013 attack on a Kenyan mall that killed 68 over the course of a two-day hostage crisis.