MOGADISHU (Reuters) – A suicide bomber targeting a minibus full of delegates involved in Somalia’s parliamentary elections killed at least six people in Mogadishu on Thursday, the ambulance service said, while Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack
The blast occurred early on Thursday while the vehicle was passing a busy junction on a road heading to the president’s office in the capital of the East African nation.
Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu’s Aamin Ambulance Services, said its personnel carried six bodies from the scene. It was not immediately clear who the casualties were.
A delegate on the bus said the passengers were unharmed.
“We were in the bus passing the junction and I could see someone running towards the bus and police shouting at him ‘stop’ at gunpoint. Then we heard two gunshots and a blast,” Saado Abdillahi, one of the delegates told Reuters.
“We had passed already but I understand civilians were victims.”
Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which aims to topple the central government and impose its own severe interpretation of Islamic law, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it killed six delegates and five police officers.
“A Mujaheed suicide bomber conducted an operation against a convoy of the apostate government. The target was the delegates selecting lawmakers,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesperson said.
Somalia’s elections for lawmakers began on Nov. 1 and were initially supposed to end on Dec. 24, but are currently due to be completed on Feb. 25. The attack on delegates may present an additional challenge to the election.
According to Somalia’s indirect electoral process, regional councils are meant to choose a senate. Delegates include clan elders who pick members of the lower house, which would then choose a new president at a date yet to be fixed.
A months-long dispute between Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble and his political rival President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has been blamed for the delayed parliamentary elections.
So far 124 of 275 lawmakers have been elected, according to data from the election commission.
Al Shabaab frequently carries out bombings and gun assaults in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia.
It also carries out attacks against African Union peacekeeping troops, and in neighbouring Kenya, in retaliation of the presence of its soldiers in the peacekeeping mission.
(Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)