MOGADISHU : At least five people were killed on Monday in a huge explosion targeting a senior official in the southern Somali town of Baidoa, police said.
“The target was a pick-up truck transporting a senior local official,” police spokesman Mohamed Moalim Abdirahman said. “He escaped the attack, but two of his security guards were killed along with three civilians.”
The town, which is under the control of government troops backed by African Union forces, was wrested off the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels two years ago.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Shebab have carried out a string of bombings and vowed to overthrow the war-torn country’s internationally-backed but fragile government.
“I saw the dead bodies of five people around the site of blast... several other people were wounded,” witness Hassan Nurow said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast, but some witnesses said a suicide bomber had rammed a car laden with explosives into the pick-up.
The Shebab have been driven out of fixed positions in Somalia’s major towns by the UN-mandated AU force, but still regularly launch attacks that include bombings and guerrilla-style raids.
Recent Shebab attacks have targeted key areas of government or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities that they are winning the war against the fighters.
Continued conflict, compounded by poor rains and funding shortfalls, are threatening the few gains made in Somalia since an extreme famine less than three years ago, with the United Nations and aid agencies warning the troubled country could be sliding back into a food crisis.
A UN appeal for $933 million in humanitarian aid for Somalia is so far only 15 percent-funded.
Some 250,000 people, around half of them young children, died in Somalia during the 2011 famine, according to the UN, which has acknowledged it should have done more to prevent the tragedy.
Today, over 50,000 severely malnourished children are at “death’s door”, a coalition of 22 international and Somali aid agencies warned earlier this month, with almost three million people in crisis and over one million forced from their homes.
But the violence continues, with attacks even in the heart of the capital Mogadishu.
Last month, Shebab said they assassinated two MPs in the space of 24 hours in Mogadishu in a shooting and car bombing, as well as setting off other car bombs.
In February, Shebab militants carried out a major attack against the heavily fortified presidential palace, killing officials and guards in intense gun battles.