MOGADISHU: Nine people, including senior regional officials, were killed in twin car bombings claimed by the Islamist group Al-Shabaab in central Somalia on Monday, police said.
“The initial information we have received confirms the death of nine people” including a state minister and a commissioner, said Mohamed Moalim Ali, a local police commander.
At least 10 others were injured in “suicide attacks” when two cars loaded with explosives were detonated about five minutes apart outside district headquarters in the city of Beledweyne, he added.
The health minister of Hirshabelle state -- where Beledweyne is located -- and a deputy district commissioner were among the dead, police said.
The attacks follow a push by Somalia’s government to ratchet up offensives against the Al-Qaeda-linked militants, with the authorities announcing the killing of a top Al-Shabaab operative on Monday.
Abdullahi Yare, who had a $3.0-million bounty on his head, was killed in a joint air strike on October 1 by the Somali army and international security partners in southern Somalia, the ministry of information said in a statement.
“This leader... was the head preacher of the group and one of the most notorious members of the Shabaab group,“ it said.
A co-founder of Al-Shabaab, Yare was believed to be next in line to take over the leadership of the movement from its ailing chief Ahmed Diriye, according to the ministry.
Somalia’s recently elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has vowed an all-out war on the jihadists, after a string of deadly attacks, including a 30-hour hotel siege in the capital Mogadishu, that killed 21 people.
The capital of Hiraan region, Beledweyne lies about 300 kilometres (200 miles) north of Mogadishu.
Mohamud last month urged citizens to stay away from areas controlled by Al-Shabaab as government forces supported by local clan militias launched offensives in Hiraan.
Witnesses of Monday’s twin bombings described a smaller blast followed by a massive second explosion.
“The explosion was huge, and it destroyed most buildings” nearby, said Mohamud Addow, who witnessed the attack.
“I saw several people rushed to hospital and some dead bodies... some were unrecognisable.”
Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the bombings, has waged a bloody insurrection against the Mogadishu government for 15 years and remains a potent force despite an African Union operation against the group.
Its fighters were ousted from the capital in 2011 but continue to stage attacks on military, government and civilian targets.
The group last week claimed responsibility for a bomb blast that killed a top Somali police officer near the Al-Shabaab-controlled village of Bursa, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Mogadishu.-AFP