Shabaab conducts triple suicide bombing in central Somalia

As military operations continue against the group across much of central Somalia, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, retaliated today with a triple suicide car bombing in the city of Beledweyne. 

According to local media, Shabaab’s suicide bombers targeted the district headquarters building in Beledweyne, the capital of Somalia’s central Hiraan region. In recent weeks, the headquarters also acted as a mobilization center for those clan militiamen wishing to join in on the current fighting against the jihadist group. 

Somali officials have not yet given a firm estimate of those killed and wounded in the blasts. At least two local government officials are believed to have died in the blasts, though exact numbers are still unknown. Preliminary estimates put the totals at 10 people killed and another 30 wounded, but these numbers are expected to rise. 

Videos on social media detail a high-level of destruction in the aftermath of the explosions. 

For its part, Shabaab confirmed that it targeted the district headquarters in Beledweyne with two bombings. The jihadist group stated that it was specifically targeting members of the Macawisley, or clan militias, as well as local Somali government officials. 

A third suicide bombing, according to Shabaab, later targeted emergency personnel as well as alleged Ethiopian and Djiboutian soldiers who Shabaab says also arrived to help secure the scene. Videos on social media do show intense gunfire following the initial blasts, which presumably were an attempt to stop the third car bombing. 

Today’s triple suicide bombing in Beledweyne comes as Shabaab faces severe military operations against it in Somalia’s Hiraan, Galguduud, and Bay regions. The jihadist group has been pushed out of dozens of villages in recent weeks, though fears have mounted over Somalia’s ability to effectively hold liberated territory. 

These fears have been compounded in recent days with Shabaab claiming it re-captured the town of Booco in Hiraan. The Somali military heavily touted the capture of Booco, a town that had been controlled by Shabaab for over a decade, last month. 

However, last week the al Qaeda branch showed its men freely walking through the village, saying that the Macawisley forces tasked with holding the village fled. Somali officials have yet to confirm or deny Shabaab’s claims. 

Beledweyne itself has seen its fair share of violence this year. In March, the city was the scene of a double suicide bombing targeting Somalia’s then-election process. Two parliamentary candidates were killed in the blasts. 

Shabaab has conducted at least 33 suicide bombings across Somalia so far this year, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. It has launched at least 88 successful or attempted suicide bombings since 2020. 

It is likely that as military operations against it continue in central Somalia – and potentially soon in southern Somalia – the group will continue to mount such retaliatory strikes. 

Despite some setbacks in recent years, Shabaab continues to be one of al Qaeda’s most effective branches. It maintains significant control over much of southern Somalia and retains the ability to strike in Mogadishu, Kenya, where it also controls territory, and against heavily fortified bases in both Somalia and Kenya.

Though its fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, it has weathered numerous offensives from an array of local, regional, and international actors, including the United States.

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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