More details are emerging from yesterday’s terror attacks that rocked Mogadishu. The two explosions that took place outside the Department of Education at the busy Soobe intersection were reportedly carried out by Al-Shabab suicide bombers who detonated their car bombs.
The site of the twin blasts is near the Somali Ministry of Education, but the ministry was not directly hit as intended as the facility was secured by security forces. The ministry was the target but Minister Farah Sheikh Abdul-Qadir, his deputy and the director general of the ministry were not present at the time.
The government was reportedly informed of an impending bomb attack on Mogadishu. International airlines even canceled their trip to the Somali capital in anticipation of such an attack. The news of this foreknowledge appalled the public that their government did not see fit to increase security in the city and disrupt such a plan.
The extent of casualties and devastation
The casualties caused by the explosions that took place today at Soobe intersection in Mogadishu are increasing. According to President Hassan Sheikh, who visited the ground zero late last night, the total number of dead is so far estimated at 100 people and the wounded 300.
Despite what the president said, the government of Somalia has yet to release official statistics on the casualties caused by these explosions. As seen in terrorist attacks like the Hayat Hotel attack last August, it is unlikely that figures will be released.
The media received very limited information from hospitals in the capital. Indeed, left in the dark, some journalists approached the hospitals where the victims had been taken. In fact, no one has made an official count of the bodies and the wounded and the figures obtained from the hospitals do not include the bodies still buried under the rubble, shredded or carried away by relatives for burial.
The explosions took place at the Soobe intersection when it was very busy today. Score of civilians died but the majority of the victims were students and their parents visiting the Education Ministry for a ceremony. The attack has also claimed the lives of Hodan police chief, Hussein Addad, and reporter Mohamed Isse Kona whose parents met the same fate in similar attack years ago.
Dozens of vehicles, mainly Bajaj rickshaws, businesses, buildings and other civilian infrastructure in the area were destroyed. The apocalyptic scene is reminiscent of previous Al-Shabab bombings.
International reaction and government pledge
Apart from the international media always on the lookout for terrorist attacks in Somalia, there was little support, condemnation or sympathy from the international community outside of Turkey and neighboring countries.
Few countries offered to help Somalia with medical assistance, but so far the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that his organization will deliver medical equipment to relieve the overwhelmed medical sector.
President Hassan Sheikh, during his visit to the devastated area, delivered a moving speech in which he instructed his government to rescue those affected. In the same breath, he promised free education to all Somali children whose parents died in the terrorist attacks.
He warned the people in the capital who fund these extremists, those who are sheltering them or give them material support. He also vowed to eradicate Al-Shabab. “By God, it will not happen again in October. The country is in a war, at this hour that I am talking to you, a war is going on, the heroes of the armed forces are after the apostates.”
The president, despite his apparent emotion and his usual tough stance on similar incidents, said during an official visit to Kenya in 2015 that the attacks in Mogadishu did not shock him because there were so many. A statement that he never explained and for which he never apologized.
Mismanagement, corruption and collusion
For now, the public outrage takes aim at the government’s nonchalance and its lack of coordination with hospitals. With the large number of injured people transported to health centers in the Somali capital, private facilities took advantage of the dire situation by charging 30 dollars to blood donors who rush to be part of the rescue.
The president, informed of the complaint about the unethical fees, urged blood donors to go instead to mainly state-funded hospitals like Madina, Benadir, ex-Digfeer and Demartini. In fact, the overwhelmed ambulance services which lost two ambulances and staff in the attack took the victims to nearby health facilities regardless of their status.
In a country that had just barely recovered from more than two decades of civil war, the public sector has started to slowly gain ground in recent years. However, the country is still in the hands of politicians who divert international aid to equip their own private medical centres and charge in US dollars.
Moreover, according to security experts, the Somali National Police is severely underfunded and can’t cope with current challenges. Ironically, on the very day of the attack, millions of dollars, obtained through the illegal sale of oil blocks to a shady American company, were changing hands between the federal president and the regional presidents.
During the meeting, the audience’s laughter and applause at the mention of Minister Mukhtar Robow and Jubaland President Ahmed Madobe to their past membership in Al-Shabab disgusted the public.
Finally, experts have mostly pointed to the lack of coordination in the security sector since Hassan Sheikh came to power and entrusted the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) to Mahad Salad, a controversial politician accused to have links to Al-Shabab. His mass dismissal of experienced intelligence officers and the alienation of late Benadir Police chief Farhan Qarole had crippled bomb prevention.
Al-Shabab strikes back
This latest horrific attack comes at a time Al-Shabab is losing ground in all fronts and its tax collection network disrupted by the Somali National Army and local vigilante groups on the offensive in Hiraan and other regions, Al-Shabab tries to hit hard and does what it knows best: to terrify the public and halt the campaign against them.
Al-Shabab did not claim responsibility for the attack, even though some media claim otherwise, but there is no illusion about who is capable of such horror. However, Al-Shabab supporters within government, media, finance and telecommunications sectors are increasingly under threat and this attack could well be a warning of more to come.
The choice of the location is not coincidental as it is here that happened the most traumatizing terrorist attack in Mogadishu’s recent memory on October 2017, attack that claimed close to 600 identifiable dead. Al-Shabab was to multiply the terror factor by also targeting students ceremony at the Ministry.
Al-Shabab’s ability to hold territory is diminishing day by day, but terrorist attacks like this are not going away anytime soon. As one security expert so aptly pointed out, if President Hassan Sheikh is serious about preventing and minimizing these attacks, he would stop his revenge against the national police, who refused to mutiny against the previous government, and spend the public money to improve this force.
However, the very resilient Somali public has seen this same reaction and lip service from the government many times before. After the burial of the dead and the cleaning of the streets, politics will take over and a total silence on the attack will ensue.