At least six people were killed and 13 others injured when a suicide bomber targeted a minibus full of delegates involved in Somalia's parliamentary elections Thursday.
The bomber detonated an explosive vest near a checkpoint leading to the presidential palace in Mogadishu, according to security officials and city’s ambulance service.
Witnesses said the bomber ran after the bus, trying to grab its back door, but blew himself up as police drew their guns and shouted at him to stop.
“My team carried six dead bodies and transported 13 injured people to the hospitals,” said Abdikadir Abdirahman Adem, director of Mogadishu's Aamin Ambulance Services, told VOA Somali.
“We can confirm that a terrorist suicide bomber carried out the attack and that those killed and injured are all civilians,” Aden said.
The al-Shabab militant group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
It was not immediately clear if members of the delegates were among the casualties.
Somali Police Spokesman Col. Abdifatah Aden Hassan said police would release a full report with details on those killed and injured.
The attack comes as Somalia’s parliamentary elections continue in different parts of the country. Political leaders are trying to meet a self-imposed deadline of February 25 to finish the delayed polls.
Electoral delegates on Thursday chose six additional lawmakers from the southwestern town of Barare and five more to represent northern regions of Somalia, bringing the total of elected members of parliament to 124 — slightly less than half of the 275 seats to be filled.
The elections began on November 1 and were originally scheduled to end by December 24 but were held up due to political disputes and logistical challenges.
Once the lawmakers are selected, parliament will elect a new president.
The United States and other international Somali partners are pushing for quick and credible elections. On Monday, the U.S. barred current or former Somali officials and others accused of undermining the democratic process in Somalia from traveling to the United States.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the visa restrictions will apply to those who have encouraged and engaged in violence against protesters, intimidation of journalists and opposition members, and manipulation of the electoral process.
"The best path toward sustainable peace in Somalia is through the rapid conclusion of credible elections," Blinken said. "Somalia's national and federal member state leaders must follow through on their commitments to complete the parliamentary process in a credible and transparent manner by February 25.”
This report originated in VOA’s Somali service. Seynab Abukar contributed from Mogadishu.