At least 11 people were killed in an explosion in a busy market in a small Somali city north of Mogadishu, a security official and witnesses said.
“Eleven people were confirmed dead and more than 10 others were wounded in the blast which we are still investigating, some of the victims have serious wounds and they are admitted at hospital,” Mohamed Abdikarim, a regional security official, told AFP.
Sources contacted by AFP did not yet know whether the blast was caused by a suicide bomber or an explosive device.
The blast occurred at the marketplace in Wanlaweyn district about 70 kilometers north of the Somali capital where Khat (narcotic leaves) is sold.
“There was chaos at the market, a number of people died and others wounded, I saw the severed dead bodies of civilians but there were also security personnel involved in the casualty,” Mohamed Dahir, a witness said.
Wanlaweyn district is close to the Balidogle airbase where the US special forces have a major base.
Given Wanlaweyn’s lack of hospitals able to take in multiple casualties, residents said they took many of the wounded to their homes for the time being after the afternoon blast near a busy cluster of khat kiosks.
Police said they were investigating whether the explosion was caused by a planted bomb or by a suicide bomber.
Residents said the kiosks were busy with soldiers buying khat. “I counted five dead people, including two shoe shiners, a mother who sold khat and two customers. There were 10 other injured civilians,” shopkeeper Ahmed Mohamud told Reuters.
“I could also see several soldiers in uniform being transported from the blast scene but I could not confirm whether they were dead or wounded.”
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the blast. The Shabaab, linked to Al-Qaeda, are known to be present in the region.
Al Shabaab is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s central government and establish its own rule based on its interpretation of Islamic law.
Since being pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011, the group has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns. But it retains a strong presence in regions outside the capital.