Shabaab kills over 100 people in suicide bombings in Mogadishu

Over the weekend, two suicide car bombings perpetrated by Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, killed at least 100 people at a busy intersection in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu. Hundreds more were wounded in the blasts. 

The Soobe junction, one of the more crowded intersections in the city, is the same site as the suicide bombing that killed upwards of 500 people in 2017. Though Shabaab never took formal responsibility for that attack, it is widely blamed. 

On Saturday, a suicide car bomb struck just outside of Somalia’s Education Ministry building. Just minutes later, as people and emergency personnel were scrambling to save and treat the survivors and wounded, another suicide bomber struck. The targeting of emergency personnel in a follow-up attack is a common practice utilized by Shabaab. 

Photos on social media detail the levels of complete destruction in the immediate vicinity, showing the indiscriminate carnage wrought by the al Qaeda branch. The Somali government has confirmed that at least 100 people died in the blasts, while another 300 were wounded. The number of fatalities could rise as people succumb to injuries.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has additionally called on the international community to help Somalia treat and deal with the wounded, as Mogadishu’s hospitals and medical facilities remain overwhelmed in the aftermath of the blasts. 

Unlike the 2017 bombing, Shabaab was relatively quick at claiming Saturday’s bombings. The jihadist group rationalized its mass murder by accusing Somalia’s Education Ministry of indoctrinating and recruiting students to join the current large-scale counter-offensives against the group in central and southern Somalia. 

Shabaab goes on to state that the education ministry “excludes everything from the Islamic faith in its curriculum, replacing it with secularism, atheism, and bad manners.” It also warns civilians to stay away from areas it considers legitimate targets. 

The jihadist group has been facing large-scale counter-offensives and local clan mobilizations against it across central and southern Somalia since last month. President Hassan Sheikh vowed to defeat the group in one year, which came after the group’s Hayat Hotel siege in Mogadishu in August. 

The international community has stepped in to provide support to Somalia’s offensives. The United States, in addition to conducting air strikes against Shabaab, has also blacklisted several top leaders and financiers in recent weeks.

Turkey, which has its largest overseas base in Mogadishu, is also believed to have conducted at least one drone strike against the jihadist group. 

The Somali government has also recently asked its partners, especially the US, to increase the rate of drone strikes against Shabaab, according to reporting from The New York Times

African Union troops as part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) have also provided Somali troops with medical, logistical, and mechanized support. 

In retaliation, Shabaab has launched numerous reprisal attacks, largely directed towards civilians. Earlier this month, it killed at least 30 people in triple suicide bombings in Beledweyne, the capital of Somalia’s Hiraan region, where the bulk of the current anti-Shabaab campaigns have taken place. 

A few weeks later, it also attempted to destroy two vital bridges in Hiraan with an additional pair of suicide bombings that left over 20 people dead. And just last week, it raided a hotel in the southern Somali city of Kismayo, which killed at least nine civilians. 

In total, Shabaab has perpetrated at least 38 suicide bombings so far this year, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. It has conducted a total of at least 93 suicide bombings since January 2020. 

As the massive counter-offensives against Shabaab continue to mount and expand across Somalia, Shabaab is expected to conduct more reprisal terrorist attacks on civilian targets as it tries to sap political will and popular support from the offensives. 

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.

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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