MOGADISHU (AM) – A suicide car bomb blast followed a major attack by gunmen on an Islamic shrine in central Somalia killed at least 18 people and wounded 20 others, officials say Monday, in one of the largest attacks by the Al-Qaeda linked group fighting Somali government and African Union troops in Somalia.
According to security officials, the attack which started with a suicide car bomb followed by gunfight by militants on foot targeted a shrine run by a controversial Sufi preacher based in the country’s central town of Galkayo, as dozens of his followers gathered to perform their regular morning rituals.
Among the dead is Sheikh Abdiweli Elmi, a well-known religious leader who was the center of a controversy in Somalia last year after a video showing him and some of his followers chanting mystic verses with music surfaced on the internet, an action condemned by some as ‘unislamic’.
Some clerics have since issued fatwa, calling for his death and accused him of blasphemy, a charge Sheikh Elmi has vehemently denied.
Meanwhile, local security forces have ended the siege which lasted for nearly an hour, killing some of the attackers who stormed the shrine on the early morning. One of the attackers has also been captured alive in the shrine compound after the siege ended, officials say.
The Al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab group has claimed the responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters targeted Sheikh Elmi whom it accused of insulting prophet Mohamed and also claimed to have killed 11 of his guards.
In the meanwhile, a car bomb blast in the Somali capital has killed at least 10 people and injured more than 15 others on Monday noon, officials said, the latest in string of attacks in the seaside city which is recovering from decades of civil unrest.
According to security officials, a man suspected to have been the driver of the car bomb which was parked at a busy junction along a marketplace in Wadajir district before it was detonated by remote control has been taken into custody by police.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. However, al-Shabab often carries out such attacks across Somalia and beyond
Most of the dead were civilians, officials said as the blast which appeared to have been targeting government soldiers gathered at the junction has largely destroyed the small-scale market.
The United States has condemned the two attacks, vowing it’d stand by Somalia in its efforts to restore peace and stability.