By Mohamed Olad Hassan
The death toll from a suicide bomb attack at a busy checkpoint in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has risen to at least 80.
More than 90 others were wounded. Mogadishu Mayer Omar Finish, police and medical sources said it is the deadliest incident to hit the capital in months.
An explosives-laden vehicle blew up in the middle of a checkpoint on a road leading to Afgoye District in Lower Shabelle Province.
The checkpoint, known as Ex-Control checkpoint, is one of the main road tax collection government posts in Mogadishu.
Government officials said nearly 100 vehicles and rickshaws carrying passengers were in line at the check point for routine security inspections when the explosion went off.
A large plume of black smoke could be seen above the capital, and the sound of the explosion echoed across the city, making the blast one of the heaviest and the deadliest in Mogadishu’s recent memory.
Witnesses described a horrific scene of bloodied corpses strewn in and around the check point, and the injured shrieking for rescuers to pull them from beneath the scores of vehicles turned into rubble by the blast.
“It was a very horrific scene. Wounded people were screaming, crying, and shouting for help, while dozens of dead bodies laid around in a pool of blood,” one witness, who requested anonymity, told VOA Somali.
Several Somali police officers manning the check point and two Turkish brothers working for a road construction company are among the dead.
“The Turkish nationals were in their ordinary work of road construction, and they were among the dead,” said Somali government spokesman Isma’il Oranje.
A survivor, Ruqiyo Nur, with burns on her legs, told VOA Somali at a hospital in Mogadishu that she did not know whether her husband and brother, who were with her at the time aboard a minibus, survived. “I don’t know the fate of my husband and my brother,” Nur said
More than 30 of the dead were school and university students who were traveling on public buses during morning rush hour, security officials and university authorities said.
“Seventeen of our students and other students were among those killed during the attack. At least 20 others injured. They were heading to their education centers,” said Dr. Mohamed Mohamud Bide, the president of Banadir University.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has condemned the attack, describing it as “ a heinous terrorist attack against innocent civilians.”
Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire has named an emergency committee to assist victims and help the wounded receive proper treatment.
Hours after the attack, Somalia’s parliament approved a new election law, one of the challenges feared to hinder the countries upcoming “one person, one vote” election due in late 2020 or early 2021.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but analyst Abdihakim Aynte with the Mogadishu-based heritage research organization said it had all the hallmarks of al-Shabab attacks in Somalia.
“The attack looks similar in all forms and shape to those of al-Shabab and they always take advantage of government weakness to send a signal that they are still capable and can cause damage where they want and when they want,” Ayte said.
Seynab Abukar has contributed this report from Mogadishu