A Somali policeman holds position as al Shabaab militia storms a government building in Mogadishu on March 23, 2019.
A car bomb exploded near a hotel and restaurants in Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least 15 people in a busy area of the Somali capital targeted by Islamist militants before, rescue services said.
The afternoon explosion sent smoke billowing into the sky and destroyed two restaurants and some cars parked in the area.
A Reuters witness counted six bodies.
“So far 15 people died including five women. Seventeen others were injured in the blast,” Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Amin Ambulance service, told Reuters.
Another witness at the scene said she had seen 18 bodies.
“As a mother, it is shocking for me and I request those behind the explosions to stop. We are crying every day over dead bodies, and it is very hard for us to talk about,” the resident, who did not wish to be named, told Reuters.
Police earlier gave a death toll of eight.
“The blast destroyed a restaurant and killed many who were inside and outside the restaurant. The death toll may rise,” police Major Mohamed Hussein told Reuters.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants have in the past targeted the same location, the Wehliye Hotel, which is along the busy Maka al Mukaram road.
On Saturday, 15 people died in two explosions and a gunfight between al Shabaab militants and security personnel in Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s western-backed central government, was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.
But it remains a threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the central government. (Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Hugh Lawson)