The militant Somali group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Saturday that killed at least 15 and left dozens wounded in western Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia.
An al-Shabab statement said the attack targeted a cafe in the city of Beledweyne where soldiers gather, and said the dead included Ethiopian and Djibouti troops as well as Somali soldiers. The al-Qaida-linked group, which says a series of recent attacks are retaliation for the presence of foreign troops in Somalia, claimed to have killed more than 20 people in Saturday's blast, including 13 Ethiopian troops.
Somali Prime Minister Abid Farah Shirdon said the attack occurred near a government administrative facility, and that local intellectuals and civic groups had met nearby for the past week to debate the future of the targeted Hiiraan district. He did not provide an exact death toll, which militants placed at 25.
The prime ministers condemned the attack, saying its goal was to "scare Somali people" who were ready to decide their own future, adding that Somalis would "not go back."
Beledweyne official Bashir Hussein Dhoor told VOA's Somali service that at least seven civilians were among the dead.
A VOA reporter in the city said at least seven of the wounded were in serious condition.
The attack came four weeks after a sweeping al-Shabab attack on a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, which killed nearly 70 people and brought international attention and widespread condemnation to the militant group.
Al-Shabab rose to regional prominence as a nationalist movement fighting the 2006 U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. The group eventually controlled large parts of the country, until driven into the countryside by the African-Union-led peacekeeping force AMISOM in 2011 and 2012.
Earlier this month, the United Nations said more military force was needed to push the militants from their remaining rural strongholds.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.