The new Somali army chief, General Ahmed Mohamed Jimale Irfid, has survived a suicide car bomb attack that killed at least 15 people near his convoy in Mogadishu, government officials said.
The blast occurred minutes after the new Defense Minister Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed and former Army Chief General Mohamed Aden passed through the same road, security sources have confirmed to VOA.
The new Somali army chief had just attended a ceremony at the Defense Ministry, where he took over command from General Aden.
Most of the victims of the blast were said to be civilians who were passengers in two minibuses.
The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We do not know how to describe this tragedy, because there are just pieces of body parts,” Mogadishu administration spokesman Abdifatah Omar Halane told VOA reporter Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle
A senior military officials who visited the scene said the suicide bomber was driving a van that tried to ram the car into the armored vehicle carrying the army chief. The vehicle was one of several carrying government officials on the road.
“The suicide van was suspected and was stopped by police and was told to wait until officials pass through,” says the official who did not want to be named. “The suicide bomber waited, two vehicles passed, he then aimed for the third vehicle, missing it narrowly,” he said.
All officials arrived safely at the Presidential Palace after the explosion.
The targeting of new defense officials comes just days after the Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared war against the terror group. Farmajo offered a 60-day amnesty to members of al-Shabab if they renounce violence.
Former Somali army officer Colonel Sharif Hussein Robow says the new government leaders need to come up with a strategy to defeat al-Shabab.
“Former governments made similar announcements calling for war against al-Shabab, they have also offered amnesty in the same the new president did, so this is not new,” Robow said. “They have now made the declaration but they need to study and come up with a new way forward and seek input from people with former officials with military experience."
Robow said the task ahead is not easy, given that al-Shabab is controlling many roads and large parts of the countryside.
A 22,000 strong contingent of AU troops is operating in the country in an effort to help the Somali government expand its authority to the rest of the country.