The death toll from twin car bombings in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Saturday has risen to at least 120, while another 150 people are being treated in hospital, according to government figures.
The government has pledged the equivalent of nearly €1 million towards helping the victims and their families, while prime minister Hamza Barre has also promised to get “revenge” and “liberate the country from terrorists”.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the blasts, which took place outside the country’s education ministry at around 2pm. The group, which has been active since 2006, has been fighting to oust Somalia’s government.
According to local journalists, the vehicles destroyed by the blast included an ambulance and a full minibus. The dead included a journalist who had gone to investigate the first explosion, and was killed by the second.
In mid-October Somalia marked the fifth anniversary of a bombing close to the same location, which killed nearly 600 people.
The Horn of Africa country of more than 16 million has been wracked by instability for decades. It is experiencing its worst drought in decades, with the UN saying around 40 per cent of its population will need food aid in the coming months. Conflict and the presence of al Shabaab in many areas make it difficult for aid to be distributed.
In August, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud began an offensive against al Shabaab, with backing from the US and African Union forces.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the 2017 Mogadishu bombing “led to significant popular anger against al Shabaab”.
“[The more recent bombing] could put the movement on shakier ground, which explains why the group has already apologised for the civilians killed,” he said. “The government also has very much seized on the incident to show the cruelty of al Shabaab and press for unity in their efforts to combat the organisation. Overall though, things are likely to get worse before they get better as both the government and al Shabaab are locked into war mode right now.”
In early October, Somalia’s government announced a local media ban on the “dissemination of extremism ideology” by al Shabaab, which deputy minister of information Abdirahman Yusuf said included coverage of their “terrorist acts”.
“It’s part of the overall war the government is waging, including on the ideological front, and that al Shabaab is reacting to,” Mr Mahmood said about this. “Probably not the specific reason for this incident, which is rather a result of the accumulation of the government actions. Though it’s an uneasy step – the government can do more to explain what it means in practice as trying to control the narrative is one thing, but limiting free speech is another.”
In a statement on Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he was “horrified and saddened” by the bombings.
“The psychological impact of continued terror in Somalia is immeasurable,” tweeted Hodan Ali, a senior adviser to the mayor of Mogadishu. “We cannot clean the site and move on.”