Mogadishu, Somalia: At least eight people, including students, were killed in a massive explosion outside a school in the Somali capital on Thursday. The extremist group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Al-Qaeda-linked groups control large parts of rural Somalia and continue to thwart efforts to rebuild the Horn of Africa nation after three decades of conflict.
The explosion caused a plume of smoke during the early morning rush hour over a busy part of Mogadishu. The blast shattered part of the school, leaving emergency workers to look for collapsed ceiling beams and wooden benches.
“We were very scared of the explosion,” said teacher Mohammad Usman. He said he was teaching a lesson to the students when the blast happened. “We had strayed and we were covered in dust and smoke.”
Police spokesman Abdifatah Adam Hassan said eight people were killed and 17 others were injured.
“It’s a tragedy,” said Abdulkadir Aden of the Amin Ambulance Service, which transported people to the hospital.
Casualties could be low as Thursday is part of the weekend in Somalia, a Muslim nation.
Al-Shabaab said in a statement carried by its Andalus radio that it targeted Western officials being escorted by an African Union peacekeeping convoy. But Hassan Ali, a witness, told The Associated Press that a private security company was shielding the officers and said they saw four security personnel injured.
The attack comes as Somalia is facing big questions about its political and security future.
The AU peacekeeping force was to withdraw from the country, but its mission may be extended amid concerns that the Somali military is unprepared to take responsibility for security. The US said earlier this year that its military withdrawal from Somalia was complete.
A long-delayed presidential election was supposed to take place in February but is now likely to take place next year.