The death toll in the Somali capital Mogadishu has topped 300 as rescue teams continue to search for survivors from a massive explosion blamed on Islamist militants.
Dr. Abdulkadir Adam, head of Mogadishu ambulance services, tells VOA Somali that 302 people are confirmed dead from the blast, which struck a busy intersection in the Somali capital late Saturday.
The government says 429 injured people have been taken to local hospitals, and that the death toll is likely to rise. More than 30 badly wounded patients were flown to Turkey on Monday for treatment, including VOA Somali reporter Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle.
There has been no claim of responsibility but Somali government officials and terrorism experts strongly believe that al-Shabab militants were behind the explosion.
"Whether they claim or not claim makes no difference, we know the act that has happened, it’s al-Shabab," former intelligence officer Abdi Hassan Hussein told VOA. "The information we are getting so far shows this is the work of al-Shabab, it has their hallmarks."
The group has stayed silent since the blast but has killed hundreds of people in recent years through attacks on Mogadishu hotels, restaurants and other public areas.
Former al-Shabab leader condemns attack
Monday, a former top leader of al-Shabab condemned the explosion. Mukhtar Robow, al-Shabab's former deputy emir, called the attack "barbaric" and "a massive tragedy."
"Those who are behind this, whose fingerprints are on this, must refrain from shedding the blood of Muslims and repent. You are not going to go to paradise by killing innocents," he told reporters.
"People who are doing this must stop. ... I mean al-Shabab," he said.
Robow, who recently defected to the government, was a founder of al-Shabab and the number-two leader of the group as it fought the government and African Union forces for control of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011.
During that time, the group carried out several deadly suicide attacks on Mogadishu hotels, most notably a 2010 attack on the Hotel Muna that killed 33 people, including six members of parliament.
Rally against al-Shabab
Hundreds of residents on Sunday marched to the scene of the attack, condemning the militant group.
Some protesters wept as they reached the scene and saw the apocalyptic aftermath of the explosion. The truck bomb turned one of Mogadishu’s most beautiful junctions into death and destruction.
Mogadishu's hospitals have been struggling to treat the badly burned victims. "This is really horrendous, unlike any other time in the past," said Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Medina hospital.
Yusuf described what happened after the explosion Saturday afternoon. "We were preparing to leave work for the day but then huge blast occurred, we were shocked, within five minutes ambulances brought in the wounded," he said.
"We have received many dead people, unlike we have ever seen. The hospital is working, we are lacking intensive care equipment, we get support from ICRC but we are still lacking full capacity."
The Somali government has called for three days of national mourning and lowering the flag at half-mast.
In Washington, the White House strongly condemned "the senseless mass murder that targeted innocent men, women and children." It said U.S. citizens were among the casualties.
"Terrorist organizations are the enemies of all civilized people. The United States stands with the people and government of Somalia in their commitment to defeating these groups, ensuring the security of their people, and rebuilding their country," a statement said.
In Paris, the lights of the Eiffel Tower were turned off at midnight Monday night in a tribute to those killed in Mogadishu.
Maryan Abdullahi, 21, just finished Banadir University where she studied medicine. She left her voluntary work at Banadir hospital Saturday and was waiting a bus when the explosion occurred. She was killed instantly. Her mother Hindo Yuusuf called her daughter's phone number as soon as she heard about the location of the explosion.
"I called her number immediately but someone else answered and they said the owner of the phone died, her body is near the hotel [Safari]," she told VOA Somali.
Abdullahi’s father flew from London on Saturday to attend his daughter’s graduation from the university. He arrived in Mogadishu Sunday morning and attended her funeral instead.
Also killed were five members of the same family who were running a clothing shop.
Aweys Moallim Ali is a cousin to the family. He too was wounded in the attack. He said his relatives own two shops but they gathered into one before the explosion.
"They were doing accounting work about the sales made so far so that they can make zakat [alms] payment. They closed the other shop and were meeting in a shop near Hotel Safari," he said.
VOA's Fern Robinson and Dan Joseph contributed to this report.