Over 100 people have died and many more were seriously injured when an enormous truck bomb exploded outside a government compound on Tuesday in Mogadishu, Somalia. Many of those killed were students who were waiting to see examination results for scholarships to study in Sudan or Turkey. Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked militia group, claimed responsibility for the attack and said that it had been carried out by a suicide bomber, Bashar Abdullahi Nur.
Dunio Ali Mohamed, head of the medical department at Medina Hospital, said that there are 167 people injured, some with burns over 60 to 70 percent of their bodies. Some victims were burned beyond recognition and those in the hospital are fighting for their lives — and the hospitals are already heavily taxed from treating Somalis suffering from the effects of the months-long famine that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands, according to the United Nations. Abdirazaq Hassan Ali, director of Benadir hospital, said that the hospital is not able to provide the specialized care needed by severe burn victims.
In a statement, the Shabab said the students were targeted because they were “planning to be flown to Sudan to be trained as spies.” The suicide bomber had taped an interview before the attack in which he condemned the education system and criticized the students for wanting to study aboard. An Al Shabab spokesman issued a warning that the group will increase attacks “day by day” and warned people to stay away from government buildings.
Condemning the horrific attack, Human Rights Watch said that Al Shabab, which has been fighting the struggling Somali government, has a history of attacking educational institutions and students — recruiting students from schools by force and killing them and teachers — and that these could amount to war crimes.
The attack reveals how weak Somalia’s transitional government remains. The Shabab have withdrawn from Mogadishu and 9,000 African Union peacekeepers have been in control. Indeed, the government compound, which houses the ministries of education, foreign affairs and labor issues, had been regarded as one of the safer areas of Mogadishu.
Shabab fighters began their attacks in 2007, targeting Somali lawmakers, African Union peacekeepers and “poor women sweeping up Mogadishu’s bullet-pocked streets.” While the Shabab have withdrawn from Mogadishu and other areas near the Kenya and Ethiopia borders, they remain in control of most of southern Somalia where they have imposed draconian measures on the population, banning all that they consider un-Islamic including music and Western dress.
The Shabab are also blamed for causing the famine that could lead to the deaths of 750,000. The drought in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and much of the Horn of Africa is one of the worst in decades but “just about the only areas where that drought has spelled famine, as defined by certain thresholds of death and malnutrition rates, are Shabab-controlled areas,” says the New York Times. The Shabab have not allowed many Western aid organizations into the territory they control and have prevented people from fleeing.
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Photo of children lining up for food aid in Mogadishu in August by DFID - UK Department for International Development