In Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, two massive truck bombs exploded in quick succession on Saturday night, killing over 300 people and wounding more than 300 others. It was the deadliest attack in Somalia since the rise of the al-Shabab militant group a decade ago and has been called “the 9/11 of the Somali people.” The scale of the loss makes the attack, which involved a truck packed with several hundred pounds of military-grade and homemade explosives, one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years.
In the worst of the two bombings, a truck packed with explosives detonated near the Safari Hotel, collapsing the building and igniting a nearby fuel tanker. The resulting fireball set cars on fire and flattened nearby businesses and homes, trapping people under rubble. The death toll is expected to rise as more victims continue to be dug from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of meters wide in the center of the city.
Many people are still missing and rescue workers say a definitive death toll may never be established because the intense heat generated by the blast meant the remains of many people would not be found. Somali intelligence officials have said the attack was meant to target the capital’s heavily fortified international airport where many countries have their embassies. The massive bomb, which security officials said weighed between 1,300 pounds and 1,700 pounds, instead detonated in a crowded street after soldiers opened fire and flattened one of the truck’s tires.
Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of national mourning after the attacks and while there’s been no claim of responsibility, Somalia’s government was quick to blame al-Shabab militants, who have been behind past bombings in Mogadishu. On Sunday, hundreds of Somalis poured into the streets of Mogadishu to condemn the attacks. President Mohamed urged troops to prepare for a “state of war” against the al-Shabab extremist group blamed for the country’s deadliest attack.
Army spokesman Capt. Abdullahi Iman said the offensive involving thousands of troops will try to push al-Shabab fighters out of their strongholds in the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions where many deadly attacks on Mogadishu and on Somali and African Union bases have been launched. A Somali military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States is expected to play a supporting role in the new offensive.
In March, President Trump declared Somalia a zone of active hostilities, giving wide latitude to military leaders to launch airstrikes and ground assaults. In May, that led to the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since 1993, when Navy SEAL officer Kyle Milliken was killed in an assault on an al-Shabab radio station. In August, a raid by U.S. soldiers and Somali troops on a village outside Mogadishu left 10 civilians dead, including three children.
A Somali intelligence official investigating the attack told media outlets that a well-known man who vouched for the truck- persuading soldiers to allow it into Mogadishu is now in custody. Also in custody is an accomplice driving a minivan packed with explosives that took another route but was stopped at a checkpoint near Mogadishu’s airport. An accused mastermind of the attack may have been motivated by the deadly U.S. raid last August since he is from the village where the raid occurred.