Massive explosion sparks exodus from Somali town

Published: November 14, 2011

Scores of people have fled the Somali town of Afgoye after a massive explosion which al-Shabaab insurgents said was caused by a missile strike on one of their bases.
Military officials said they were trying to find out what caused the blast on Sunday night.Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaida and controls large sections of central and south Somalia, is fighting African Union peacekeepers, Somali government forces and Kenyan troops, while foreign warships are also active offshore, battling pirate gangs.
At least two regional news agencies reported that senior al-Shabaab commanders had been killed in the explosion, although it was not immediately possible to confirm this.
Some residents of Afgoye said there had been a flurry of insurgent activity in the area on Sunday amid rumours that rebel commanders were meeting.
“I am sure there was a meeting going on in the base near the orphanage. Armoured cars and expensive 4x4s were buzzing around,” Afgoye resident Osman Odowa told Reuters.
“One of the missiles struck right around there,” Odowa said.
Mogadishu-based media company Suna Times said on its website that al-Shabaab leaders were killed in what it described as an air strike by a US drone on Afgoye.
A US source said the United States was not involved.
A senior al-Shabaab official said two missiles were launched from warships offshore.
“Enemy warships in the Indian Ocean fired two missiles at us,” the official told Reuters. There were no casualties, he said. It was not possible to verify his account.
The Kenyan army, which has deployed thousands of troops inside Somalia, said it did not attack Afgoye, 12 miles (19km) from the capital Mogadishu.
“Yes, there was an explosion but it was not carried out by Kenyans,” said spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir. He did not have information on any casualties.
Kenya blames Islamist al-Shabaab rebels for a series of kidnappings and cross-border raids that threaten to damage east Africa’s largest economy. Al-Shabaab has denied involvement in the kidnappings but has threatened to attack Kenya in retaliation for the incursion.
Two weeks ago Kenya warned it would launch air strikes on 10 Somali towns where al-Shabaab has bases, including Afgoye.
Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, a spokesman for the 9,000-strong African Union (Amisom) peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu, said he was seeking confirmation of what had happened in Afgoye.
“We don’t know if it was a premature blast inside the al-Shabaab or an air strike. We are still trying to gather information.”
Amisom troops support Somalia’s transitional federal government, which is backed by the international community but has failed to extend its reach beyond the capital.
One of the scores of people fleeing Afgoye on Monday was mother-of-five Samira Farah, who was heading to Mogadishu. She said there was a column of minibuses laden with mattresses behind her.
“Who dares to stay in a place which is a target of planes and warships?” she said.
Some people in the area between Afgoye and Mogadishu said they had seen a bright light streaking through the sky before the explosion on Sunday night.
Source: The Guardian