VIDEO: Truck-bomb toll hits 200

Fatalities expected to rise further after massive blast rocks Somali capital

The death toll from a massive weekend truck bomb in a busy shopping district of Mogadishu surged to more than 200, with more than 250 people wounded, marking the most deadly such attack by Somalia’s al-Shabaab insurgency.

The figure was a huge jump from an initial police estimate of 20 dead in the hours after the deadly explosion ripped through the Somali capital on Saturday, causing scenes of carnage and widespread devastation.

“We are getting different numbers from the medical centres, most of them burned beyond recognition,” police official Ibrahim Mohamed said.

Rescuers worked through Saturday night to try to pull bodies from the rubble after the truck bomb exploded outside the Safari Hotel on a busy road junction, levelling buildings and leaving many vehicles in flames.

In a posting on Facebook, the Somali Senate’s deputy speaker suggested there was evidence the toll could be well over 200.

“We visited Medina hospital where the director told us that 218 dead bodies were admitted at the hospital since [Saturday],” Senator Abshir Ahmed said, saying the hospital chief had told them 130 of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but al-Shabaab, a militant group aligned with al-Qaeda, has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in its bid to overthrow Somalia’s internationally backed government.

Mogadishu mayor Tabid Abdi Mohamed also visited those wounded in the blast, saying he lacked words to describe what he had seen.

“What I have seen at the hospitals I have visited is unspeakable,” he said, calling on everyone to help in the rescue efforts.

“There is no tragedy worse than when someone comes to the dead body of their relative and cannot recognise them.”

The explosion occurred at a junction in Hodan, a bustling commercial district in the city’s northwest which has many shops, hotels and businesses.

Security officials said hundreds of people had been in the area at the time, with police saying it was difficult to get a precise number of victims because the bodies had been taken to different medical centres or directly by relatives for burial.

As the rescue work continued, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, declared three days of mourning as he visited the attack site and then met with some of the wounded at a hospital.

Medics there told him they had treated about 205 patients, half of whom were in serious condition, he said in a televised address.

“[Saturday’s] incident was a horrible attack carried out by al-Shabaab against innocent civilians that was not aimed at specific Somali government targets,” he said.

“This shows how these violent elements are ruthlessly and indiscriminately targeting innocent people who were busy minding their own business.”

Although the Safari Hotel was popular, it was not one frequented by government officials – which have often been targeted by al-Shabaab militants.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani wrote on Twitter that the country’s embassy had been badly damaged in the blast and one of its top officials wounded.

The National Union of Somali Journalists said a freelance cameraman, Ali Nur Siyaad, had been killed and four journalists wounded in the explosion.

Al-Shabaab was forced out of the capital six years ago by African Union and Somali troops, and subsequently lost control of major towns across southern Somalia.

The militants continue to control rural areas and launch attacks on targets in Somalia, as well as terrorist raids in neighbouring Kenya.

The blast came two days after both Somalia’s defence minister and army chief resigned without explanation.

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