At least 10 people were killed Friday and more than 10 others were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a stadium in Galkayo town in the Mudug region of central Somalia, ahead of a planned address by Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Roble, authorities and witnesses said.
The bomber targeted government officials and members of the prime minister’s security team heading to the stadium for a rally of government supporters, according to witnesses, who told VOA Somali the explosion was loud and shook the entire area.
The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“I cannot confirm the exact number of casualties. But I can tell you that at least 10 people, among them senior military officials, the former mayor of Galkayo North and other top security officers, have lost their lives in the blast,” Galmudug Information Minister Ahmed Shire Falagle told VOA Somali by phone.
“The number could be higher,” he said.
Government officials said among those killed in the blast were the commander of the 21st Division of the Somali National Army, General Abdiazis Abdullahi Abdi; the commander of the 10th Brigade of Somalia’s U.S-trained Danab military unit, Colonel Mukhtar Abdi Aden; and the former mayor of Galkayo North, Mohmus Yasin Tumey.
Doctors at hospitals in the town said more than 10 people wounded in the blast had been admitted to their facilities.
Falagle confirmed that Somalia’s prime minister was heading to the stadium at the time of the attack and that he was safe.
A VOA stringer in the town, Abdiwahid Isaq, who was in the stadium at the time of the blast, said, “As people were waving flags and placards, a huge, deafening blast went off outside the soccer stadium, where security forces were checking incoming cars and people. The blast sent a huge plume of black smoke into the air above the stadium, forcing people at the rally to scramble for an exit."
A witness who requested anonymity said, “We were 30 meters away from the blast scene when it exploded. I could see a number of government officials and security officers lying on the ground in a pool of blood.”
Galkayo, 574 kilometers north of Mogadishu, is the provincial capital of the Mudug region. Since the collapse of Somalia’s central government of Siad Barre in 1991, the town has been divided into two parts, south and north. The south is controlled by the Galmudug regional state and the north is controlled by Puntland. Friday’s blast occurred in the southern part of the town.
Al-Shabab said Somalia’s prime minister was its target in Friday's bombing.
“Roble was the main target of our attack and we killed two senior military commanders in the attacks,” said an al-Shabab statement aired via the group's mobile official station, Radio Andalus.
The blast came as tension continues to simmer in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and as the country gets closer to presidential elections scheduled for February 8.
Police prevented union supporters from staging a protest Thursday of more than a dozen Somali opposition politicians, among them former presidents and prime ministers, seeking to unseat President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.
'We will win'
“Today’s terrorist attacks in Galkayo only show the goal of the enemy of the Somali people, which is to get rid of [our] selective figures and our people in general. We will win against the ruthless,” said Farmaajo in a statement posted on the government website.
The opposition accuses Farmaajo of bypassing electoral laws by stacking the poll committee with his allies. It also accuses the government of violating the constitutional right to assemble.
VOA's Abdiwahid Isaq contributed to this report from Galkayo, Somalia.