Truck bomb in Somalia's capital kills at least 61 people

MOGADISHU: The director of an ambulance service in Somalia's capital says the death toll from a truck bombing has risen to at least 61.

Abdiqadir Abdirahman, the director of Aamin Ambulance, says more than 50 people were wounded.

A truck bomb exploded at a busy security checkpoint in Somalia's capital Saturday morning, killing at least 30 people, officials said. It was one of the deadliest attacks in Mogadishu in recent memory.

The toll was likely to rise as scores of people were rushed to hospitals, government spokesman Ismail Mukhtar told The Associated Press. Mayor Omar Mohamud Mohamed, speaking at the scene, said at least 90 people were wounded, including children.

The mayor said two Turkish nationals and many university students were among those killed.

Captain Mohamed Hussein said the blast targeted a tax collection center during the morning rush hour as Somalia returned to work after its weekend. Images from the scene showed the mangled frames of vehicles and bodies lying on the ground.

A large black plume of smoke rose above the capital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab often carries out such attacks. The extremist group was pushed out of Mogadishu several years ago but continues to target high-profile areas such as checkpoints and hotels in the seaside city.

Al-Shabab was blamed for a devastating truck bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed more than 500 people. The group never claimed responsibility for the blast that led to widespread public outrage. Some analysts said al-Shabab didn't dare claim credit as its strategy of trying to sway public opinion by exposing government weakness had badly backfired.

The latest attack again raises concern about the readiness of Somali forces to take over responsibility for the Horn of Africa country's security in the coming months from an African Union force.

Al-Shabab, the target of a growing number of US airstrikes since President Donald Trump took office, controls parts of Somalia's southern and central regions. It funds itself with a “taxation” system that experts describe as extortion of businesses and travelers that brings in millions of dollars a year.