At least seven people were killed and 17 others injured in two huge suicide car bombs near Mogadishu international airport on Monday, ambulances services and Somali officials said.
The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack. This was the second time the group used the tactic of back-to-back suicide vehicles, with the first meant to provoke panic and the second to cause maximum casualties.
The first of the two explosions targeted a checkpoint manned by Somali national security forces around mid-day local time. Immediately after the first explosion, a second car drove at high speed through the checkpoint and detonated outside the Peace Hotel opposite the airport, residents said.
Both explosions took place near Medina Gate, one of the main entrances of the airport.
“First I heard gunshots, then a car explosion and then we took a duck,” said a witness who asked not to be named for security reasons. “When we came out to help the wounded we saw a big truck drive through it (checkpoint) and it exploded.”
The second blast was caused by a truck bomb and it exploded at the road between the airport and Peace Hotel, witnesses said.
Several houses along the road collapsed while Peace Hotel sustained massive damage, said Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a reporter for VOA's Somali Service. The hotel is often used by Somali officials, NGO workers and Somalis from the diaspora.
Ahmed Ali is one of the residents in the neighborhood. He told VOA that one of his neighbors was killed when their home collapsed. The victim’s sister and brother, a child, were wounded.
A spokesman for the Mogadishu administration, Abdifatah Omar Halane, told VOA that rescue efforts are underway to account for people who may be trapped under the rubble.
“This was the biggest, loudest explosion ever to happen in Mogadishu. Thank God it took place in an area where there are not lots of civilians,” he said.
Mogadishu ambulance services confirmed the deaths of four civilians while security sources told VOA's Somali Service that a government soldier was also killed. The two suicide bombers were also killed bringing the death toll to seven.
Somali Foreign Minister Abdusalam Hadliye Omer, who was in Nairobi, told VOA he has been living at Peace Hotel for the past two years. He said he was told there is a “heavy damage” to the hotel.
Omer condemned the attack as “evil act."
“This is a terrorist act carried out by a group that does not want to see peace and governance in Somalia,” he said.
Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle contributed to this report from Mogadishu.