14 killed in central Somalia in suicide bombing claimed by Al-Shabaab
Fourteen people including local government officials were killed in a suspected suicide bombing claimed by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group in the central Somalia town of Beledweyne on Saturday, police and witnesses said.
The attack took place despite security being tightened in Beledweyne on the eve of a first round of voting for parliamentary seats in the constituency, which lies about 340 kilometres (210 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu.
"The number of people who have died in the heinous terrorist attack in Beledweyne today has increased from 10 people to 14 as of now," local police officer Mohamud Hassan told AFP by phone.
Two deputy district commissioners were among the dead, while 16 civilians were also wounded, local police officer Mohamud Hassan told AFP by phone, saying a suicide bomber was believed to be behind the blast at a local restaurant.
"This was the deadliest attack I can recall in this town," he added.
Somalia, particularly Mogadishu, has seen a spate of attacks in recent weeks as the country hobbles through long-delayed elections.
Witnesses said the huge explosion tore through an open area of the Hassan Dhiif restaurant where people had gathered under trees to eat lunch and enjoy the breeze.
"I saw dead bodies of several people and I could not count how many wounded that were rushed to hospital," said one witness, Mahad Osman.
"Some of these people were waiting for their ordered meals to come while enjoying the fresh weather when the blast occurred," he said.
"I saw shoes, sticks and hats strewn at the scene of the blast, there was also blood and severed parts of human flesh in the area."
Somalia is due to wrap up voting for the lower house of parliament by 25 February under the latest timetable for the elections, which are more than a year behind schedule.
Among those running for a seat in Beledweyne is Farhad Yasin, Somalia's former intelligence chief who is now national security adviser to President President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo.
Somalia's voting process follows a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
Voting for the upper house concluded last year, while clan delegates have so far elected 159 of the 275 MPs who sit in the lower house.
The election impasse has worried Somalia's international backers, who fear it distracts from the battle against Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group which has been fighting the weak central government for more than a decade.