The death toll from two suicide car bomb blasts that ripped through the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Friday has risen to at least 38 people, according to government sources.
Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adan of the Aamin Ambulance Service said the bombings targeted the presidential palace and a hotel. At least 30 other people were wounded. Adan said that most of the victims were civilians.
The medical director of Mogadishu's Medina Hospital, Abdulkadir Husein Mohamed, told VOA that the remains of 27 people had been brought to the hospital following the explosion, and that two others had died of their wounds while in the hospital.
The location of other casualties was not clear.
The first blast occurred near the country's intelligence headquarters. Minutes later, another car bomb hit a checkpoint about 300 meters from Somalia’s presidential palace.
The al-Shabab Islamist militant group claimed responsibility in a statement posted online, saying it was targeting the government and security services.
Somali Security Minister Mohamed Abukar Islow told VOA that security forces had been tipped off about a possible attack. "Our security forces thwarted the terrorists' initial plans," he said. "One group blew up a car bomb in a parking lot near the headquarters of Somalia's intelligence agency because they could not find a chance to reach behind that point."
The security minister said the blast hit a group of people who had returned from Mogadishu's Lido Beach, a popular recreation area.
Additionally, he said, "another group detonated a car packed with explosives at a main security checkpoint around Villa Somalia," the country's presidential palace. He said that they killed one government soldier and that an additional five militants were shot dead in the ensuing gunbattle.
"We heard two big explosions, and gunfire is still echoing in two different directions of the city," Mogadishu resident Nur Abdulle told VOA. "After blasts, we could see a huge cloud of smoke into the air."
Al-Shabab has attacked dozens of government buildings, hotels, restaurants and other targets in Mogadishu in recent years.
Turkey, which has its biggest foreign military base and embassy in Mogadishu, condemned the car bombings. In a statement, Turkey's foreign ministry said Saturday, "we wish God's mercy upon those who lost their lives in the attacks, convey our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones, and wish [a] speedy recovery to the wounded.
"Turkey will maintain its strong solidarity with the government and the brotherly people of Somalia in the wake of terrorist attacks targeting stability in Somalia."