At least 21 people were killed in two separate bombings in the central Hirshabelle state of Somalia, officials said.
A powerful car bomb exploded in Jalalaqsi town when soldiers operating a security checkpoint intercepted a vehicle. The checkpoint is near local government buildings and a military base belonging to African Union peacekeepers from Djibouti.
“At around 2:30 p.m., a vehicle arrived at the checkpoint, one of the soldiers collecting taxation pointed a gun and stopped it,” said Mire Hussein Siyad, deputy district commissioner of Jalalaqsi.
“When the gun was pointed at [it], the vehicle exploded,” Siyad told VOA Somali.
He said Wednesday’s explosion killed at least 15 people, including the town’s two civilian leaders, Mayor Adan Mohamed Isse and Mohamed Nur Agajof Dabaashe, the district commissioner. Dabaashe was recently replaced as Jalalaqsi commissioner, but he had not handed over responsibility yet, Siyad said.
Other victims included soldiers at the checkpoints and civilians including street vendors. The explosion destroyed a building near the checkpoint where the local officials were based. Siyad said two AU peacekeepers were injured in the attack.
Siyad said the target was the town’s main bridge.
Meanwhile, six other people including four civilians were killed a separate explosion, when a three-wheeled motorcycle with explosives attached, struck the Bulobarde town bridge. The important bridge links Somalia’s south and central regions. Pictures taken by the witnesses show the explosion partially damaged the bridge.
The district commissioner of Bulobarde, Ahmed Mahad Nur, told VOA Somali that two men riding the motorcycle drove it onto the bridge. He said one of the men jumped off before the explosion while the second one detonated the explosive-laden motorcycle and died in the blast.
Nur said the man who jumped was shot and killed by security forces. He said troops seized two other motorcycles laden with explosives.
The officials said the two explosions were coordinated and intended to destroy the two bridges.
“They wanted to bring down the two bridges at the same time,” Siyad said.
“It’s the most crucial bridge between the central and southern regions,” said Nur.
Nur vowed the local government will rebuild the damaged bridge.
The al-Shabab militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the two attacks.
Bulobarde and Jalalaqsi in the Hiran region (Hirshabelle state) have been the focal point of efforts to mobilize the local population against al-Shabab.
Somali army spokesperson General Abdullahi Ali Anod on Tuesday reported that government forces and local fighters are completing preparations for new operations against al-Shabab in Hirshabelle, and in Southwest, Galmudug and Jubaland states. He said the operations could start within a “week or weeks.”
Al-Shabab has threatened clans mobilizing against them with violence.