MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — More than 300 people are dead after the truck bombing in Somalia’s capital and scores of others remain missing, authorities said Monday, as the fragile Horn of Africa nation reeled from one of the world’s worst attacks in years.
As funerals continued, the government said the death toll is expected to rise.
Another nearly 400 people are injured, many badly burned, after Saturday’s bombing targeted a crowded street in Mogadishu. Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, which has not commented.
As hospitals and families continued to count the dead, nearly 70 people remained missing, based on accounts from relatives, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein. He said many bodies were burned to ashes in the attack.
More than 70 critically injured people were airlifted to Turkey for treatment as international aid began to arrive, officials said. Nervous relatives stood on the tarmac at the airport, praying for the recovery of their loved ones.
Overwhelmed hospitals in Mogadishu have struggled to assist other badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open as the screams from victims or newly bereaved families echoed in the halls.
The attack is one of the deadliest attacks in sub-Saharan Africa, larger than the Garissa University attack in Kenya in 2015, in which 148 died, and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which about 219 were killed.
Countries including Kenya and Ethiopia have offered to send medical aid in response to what Somali’s government has called a “national disaster,” said Information Minister Abdirahman Osman.
A plane carrying a medical team from Djibouti arrived to evacuate others wounded, said Mohamed Ahmed, an official with Somalia’s health ministry. It was the second team of foreign doctors to arrive in Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab, which for more than a decade has waged war in Somalia, often targets high-profile areas of the capital. Earlier this year, it vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia’s recently elected president announced new military efforts against the group.
The country’s Somali-American leader, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood.
Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabab, was stunned by the force of Saturday’s blast. The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government’s ability to secure the seaside city of more than 2 million people.
The United States has condemned the bombing, saying “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.” It tweeted a photo of its charge d’affaires in Somalia donating blood. But the U.S. Africa Command said U.S. forces had not been asked to provide aid.
The U.S. military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country.
Saturday’s blast occurred two days after the head of the U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, and two days after the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.
The United Nations special envoy to Somalia called the attack “revolting.” Michael Keating said the U.N. and African Union were supporting the Somali government’s response with “logistical support, medical supplies and expertise.” •
By ABDI GULED, Associated Press