Suicide blast in central Somalia kills 15
MOGADISHU - At least 15 people died Saturday in a suicide attack in a restaurant in the central Somali town of Beledweyne claimed by the Shebab, a local police chief said.
"The death toll we have so far is 15 and the injured are more than that number," Isaq Ali Abdi, police chief of the Hiraan region, told AFP.
Witnesses said earlier they had counted 12 bodies after the blast.
"It was horrible, I counted 12 people killed -- among them soldiers -- and many others were injured," Mohamed Islow Ali, a witness, told AFP by telephone.
"There were a lot of people in the restaurant when the bomber blew himself up, many people have died including civilians," said Hussein Ali, another witness.
"The attack was carried out by one of the mujahedeen. Thanks to Allah, he has killed many of the enemy including Ethiopian soldiers and Djiboutians," Sheikh Mohamed, a Shebab commander in the nearby town of Bulaburde, told AFP.
The attack targeted a restaurant said to be popular with the military. Ethiopian soldiers, as well as Djiboutians from an African Union force and Somali soldiers are all stationed in Beledweyne.
Men from all three forces had gathered there to drink tea when the attacker struck, local people said.
"Some people were killed while drinking tea and others as they were walking past. It was an incident that terrorised the town's inhabitants," said Ahmed Mohamud, another resident.
Somalia's president and prime minister both condemned the attack.
"This cowardly act was perpetrated by the violent elements who have no basis in Islamic ideology," President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said.
"This proves that the Shebab opted solely for extremism after losing in battle," he said in a statement.
"I am deeply saddened by the death of innocent people in Beledweyne," Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said for his part.
"Terrorists defeat only themselves when they commit these atrocities. They long ago lost all popular support as Somalis have discovered for themselves how poisonous the ideology of extremism is," he said.
In June 2009, 20 people including Somalia's security minister were killed in Beledweyne when a suicide bomb blast claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab ripped through a hotel.
The town lies some 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu. Its position close to the border with Ethiopia and on the road to Mogadishu gives it great strategic importance.
It was through Beledweyne that Ethiopia entered Somalia in 2006 when it attempted to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts, the Islamist militant group that was a precursor of the Shebab.
Two years later, Ethiopian troops were driven back into Ethiopia, still via Beledweyne.
They came back to affront the Shebab in late 2011.
The Shebab have been driven out of Somalia's major towns, including the capital Mogadishu and the key southern port of Kismayo, by a UN-mandated African Union force that now numbers 17,700 men.
However the group still controls large swathes of southern Somalia and has over the past few months stepped up the scale of its suicide attacks.
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