At least seven policemen were killed in a huge explosion in a small town Tuesday near the capital, officials and witnesses said.
The explosion occurred at a base used by units from the Somali police force on the southern side of the town of Afgoye, 30 kilometers west of Mogadishu.
The Mayor of Afgoye, Abdinasir Alim Ibrahim told VOA's Somali service that the bomb had been hidden by al-Shabab militants who attacked the base Monday.
“During the attack yesterday we retreated from the area, that is when they buried the bomb in the base,” said Ibrahim. “Our forces were today preparing to launch an operation against al-Shabab when the bomb exploded, four died at the scene, three more died in the hospital.”
Ibrahim said Afgoye does not have military bases, which serve as defense against al-Shabab because Somali and AU forces vacated their stations nearby.
Tuesday's explosion follows an attack by the militants on Afgoye just hours earlier. A well-known Somali farmer was killed, and four others were injured in that attack, according to Somali government officials. Habibo Ali, a farmer and trader of agricultural products, was killed on her farm in the fighting.
The fighting marked the third time this month that militants have attacked the town.
Ibrahim Aden Najah, governor of Lower Shabelle region, told VOA's Somali service that the militants are relentless in their attacks on Afgoye because of its “strategic location” and its “symbolism.”
“They [al-Shabab] want to destabilize the town closest to Mogadishu,” he said. “Afgoye is like second Mogadishu to them; they want to show the government and the people that they are nearby.”
Najah said that although the militants were pushed back, they remain on the outskirts.
“They are five to six kilometers away, it will take them less than an hour to reach the town, and it’s inevitable that they will attack again,” he said.