Thousands of Somalis gathered Friday to pray at the site of the country’s deadliest bombing. Last Saturday a truck bomb exploded on a busy street in Mogadishu, killing what is now believed to be 358 people.
As Somalis in the capital city paid their respects, the Somali prime minister said Somalia’s president will announce a “state of war” against the al-Shabab extremists the government blames for the bombing.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is expected to announce the new offensive Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
Army spokesman Captain Abdullahi Iman told the Associated Press that the new offensive was to involve thousands of troops to try to push al-Shabab fighters out of their strongholds in the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle region, where they are believed to have planned their attack on Mogadishu.
Several suspects have been arrested and are being questioned.
“Our security agencies have more detailed information about the blast as there are people we have arrested,” said Internal Security Minister Mohamed Abukar Islow, “but we will let you know when we are done with our investigations.”
Also Friday, the U.S. military said it launched a drone strike on al-Shabab, resuming its own fight with the militant group.
Somalia’s information minister reported late Friday that 56 people were still missing from the Mogadishu blast, which wounded 228 people. Of the injured, 122 had been airlifted to Turkey, Sudan and Kenya for treatment.
Tens of thousands march
Wednesday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Mogadishu and other major Somali cities, condemning those behind the massive explosion.
Demonstrators marched from the stadium to the scene of Saturday’s blast to hold a memorial ceremony for the victims.
Other rallies took place Wednesday in Baidoa, Beledweyne and Dhusamareeb.
The Mogadishu protest came in response to a call from the city’s mayor for a massive rally to pray for those killed and injured in the truck bombing, which the government blames on Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
Time to unite
President Mohamed urged Somalis to take up arms for what he called a tough war with al-Shabab.
“It is time for us to unite, and I call for all Somalis to join hands together in the fight against the common enemy,” he said.
He extended a similar invitation to political leaders.
“I call for the politicians who have relationships with foreign countries to put our differences aside and join us in the fight against the militants,” he said.
Mogadishu Mayor Taabit Abdi Mohamed said, “Somali people must be ready for a war to liberate this city.”
Still no claim
Al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday’s blast, the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia’s history.
Over the past 10 years, the group has bombed dozens of hotels, restaurants and other targets in Mogadishu as part of its campaign to topple the government and install a strict version of Islamic law in Somalia.
Among those killed in the attack was Ahmed Abdikarin Eyow, a leader of the Somali community in Minnesota who helped organize a VOA Town Hall with then-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud last year in Minneapolis, and freelance Somali cameraman Ali Nur Siad.
Siad was on assignment with Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a stringer for VOA’s Somali Service.
Abdulle was seriously wounded in the attack and airlifted to a Turkish hospital on Monday for treatment.