MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A car bomb blast Thursday in a normally quiet Mogadishu neighborhood blew the facade off a tea shop where intelligence officers are known to congregate, killing at least 11 people, police said.
A ball of smoke rose into the sky, as survivors ducked for cover. One man broke his arm when, startled by the blast, he jumped out of a moving car near the attack.
Police Capt. Mohammed Hussein said he saw 11 dead bodies. The tea shop is frequented by members of Somalia’s intelligence unit but it wasn’t immediately known how many of the victims were government employees.
The al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab has increased the frequency of attacks in Somalia’s capital in recent weeks, raising the specter of a return to daily violence. Last week an al-Shabab team attacked the presidential palace with two car bombs and seven gunmen. A car bomb exploded near a U.N. convoy earlier this month.
Witnesses said the car bomb sped toward the tea shop before detonating. Broken tea glasses were scattered on the ground amid splatters of blood.
“You can’t stop someone who only cares about killing himself,” said Mohamed Abdi, a Somali police officer.
After controlling most of Mogadishu for years, al-Shabab was pushed out by African Union forces in August 2011, allowing an era of relative peace to be ushered in. However, al-Shabab has increased its pace of attacks in recent weeks, including the use of mortar fire attacks, complex suicide team attacks and even targeted murders.
Gunmen shot dead a health worker giving out polio vaccinations on Wednesday night, the second polio worker killed in the capital this week, police said.
The increase in attacks comes amid plans by the African Union and Somali forces to carry out an offensive against al-Shabab to try to reduce further the areas in the country’s south-central region that the militants control.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, responding to Thursday’s attack, said in a written statement the government has set out steps “aimed at eliminating the threat of terrorism in our country.”
“Today’s indiscriminate attack on a tea shop filled with civilians going about their lives has only resulted in the further tragic loss of innocent Somali lives. Al-Shabaab’s agenda is a betrayal of Islam and of the peaceful Somali communities who want to see a new secure, stable and united Somalia.”