15 dead as new Somali army chief escapes bombing

15 dead as new Somali army chief escapes bombing
Somalia's new military chief survived a suicide car bomb attack on Sunday just moments after he was sworn in with a mandate to launch a new offensive against extremists.
3 min read
10 April, 2017
At least 10 people were killed in the car bombing [AFP]

Somalia's new army chief escaped a car bombing on Sunday that killed at least 15 people in a bloody response by Shabaab militants to the president's declaration of war on the group.

A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into Ahmed Mohamed Jimale's convoy near the defence ministry in Mogadishu, just days after he was named to the top army job on Thursday by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.

"Initial information indicates that the military chief has narrowly escaped the attack," the Shabaab said in a statement published on the website of the militant group's Andalus radio station, claiming responsibility for the blast.

Senior army official Muktar Adan Moalim told AFP that seven civilians and three members of the security forces had been killed in the bombing. 

"A minibus loaded with explosives rammed a civilian bus while trying to hit the convoy of the military chief," he said.

An AFP reporter saw five dead bodies and body parts scattered across the scene of the explosion after the attack around midday.

Security forces blocked off the entire district around the defence ministry. 

Security official Ali Abdirahman confirmed that the army chief - better known to Somalis by his nickname Irfid - was unhurt, as were other senior military leaders who had been in the convoy. 

A witness, Abdirahman Isa, said the passenger bus that had been passing the scene "was completely destroyed and there were several dead bodies" which were "completely smashed and burned in the blast".

The attack was the latest deadly incident in days, after a car bomb in Mogadishu left seven dead on Wednesday, a landmine killed 19 on Thursday and a mortar attack left three dead on Friday.

While the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab have lost large swathes of territory and were forced out of Mogadishu by African Union troops in 2011, they continue to strike in the capital and countryside.

'State of war'

Widely known by his nickname Farmaajo, the president took office in February and faces a struggle to improve security in the deeply unstable Horn of Africa nation.

Bomb attacks have become a regular and bloody feature of daily life in the capital since the Shabaab were forced out of Mogadishu six years ago.

Farmaajo had told a press conference on Thursday that he was declaring a new war on the Shabaab and offering an amnesty to militants who surrendered within 60 days.

The rest, he said, would "face the consequences".

"I am announcing a state of war in the country and call on the public to stand with the national army to help fight terrorists," said Farmaajo.

"We request you put down your arms and call on you to come out of them and join the development of your people. We promise you will get good care if you join us," he said.

"We will not wait for the violent elements to continue blowing up people, we must attack them and liberate areas they are stationed."

The fragile central government continues to have international backing as well as the 22,000-strong AU force.

But the Shabaab have vowed to defeat Farmaajo's new administration, promising a "merciless" war against him.