At least nine people were killed Wednesday in a suicide car bombing that targeted a government security convoy near the airport in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
Witnesses say the blast occurred near a checkpoint along a road that leads to the heavily fortified airport perimeter.
“A deafening, huge blast sent plumes of smoke into the sky and destroyed nearby buildings and cars parked along the road,” eyewitness Aden Nur, driver of a three-wheeled motorized taxi, told reporters at the scene.
A spokesman for Somalia’s police force Abdifatah Hassan Ali, said nine people were killed in the blast and nine others wounded.
Mogadishu’s Deputy Mayor Ali Yare Ali, who was in the convoy, put the death toll at 10.
Sources close to the government told VOA that the convoy was run by a private security company, and it was not immediately known who else was in the convoy.
Other witnesses at the scene said a passing United Nations convoy appeared to be the target of the suicide attack.
The founder of the Aamin ambulance service, Abdulkadir Adan, said his team transported the dead bodies of at least eight people and nine injured.
The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted a convoy escorting Somali government and foreign officials.
The al-Qaida linked group frequently attacks government officials in its effort to overthrow the central government and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The U.S. embassy in Mogadishu has condemned the attack.
“The United States strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Mogadishu. Our thoughts are with the victims and with the families of those tragically killed and injured.” the embassy tweeted.
The explosion comes days after Somali leaders agreed on a new timetable for long-delayed elections, amid a feud between Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
The U.S. on Tuesday called on Somali leaders to see the country’s elections through to completion or face restrictions.
"And finally, the United States notes the January 9th decision by Somalia’s National Consultative Council to complete the country’s long-overdue parliamentary elections by February 25th of this year,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “We call on all of Somalia’s national and federal member state leaders to adhere to the newly agreed timeline and correct the procedural irregularities that have marred the process to date.”
“Somalia’s elections are more than a year behind schedule, and February 8th will mark the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the president’s term. The United States is prepared to draw on relevant tools, potentially including visa restrictions, to respond to further delays or actions that undermine the integrity of the process," Price added.