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MOGADISHU, Somalia, Oct 15, (AP): The death toll from the most powerful bomb blast witnessed in Somalia’s capital rose to 231 with more than 275 injured, making it the deadliest single attack ever in this Horn of Africa nation, said a senator. Abshir Abdi Ahmed said the toll comes from doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu.
Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries have not yet been identified, he said. Saturday’s blast is the single deadliest attack ever in this Horn of Africa nation. Doctors struggled to assist horrifically wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Officials feared the toll would continue to climb from Saturday’s truck bomb that targeted a busy street near key ministries.
Ambulance sirens still echoed across the city throughout Sunday as bewildered families wandered in the rubble of buildings, looking for missing relatives. “In our 10 year experience as the first responder in #Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this,” the Aamin Ambulance service tweeted.
Grief overwhelmed many. “There’s nothing I can say. We have lost everything,” wept Zainab Sharif, a mother of four who lost her husband. She sat outside a hospital where he was pronounced dead after hours of efforts by doctors to save him from an arterial injury.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims. “I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate,” he said. “The hospital is overwhelmed by both dead and wounded. We also received people whose limbs were cut away by the bomb. This is really horrendous, unlike any other time in the past,” said Dr Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Medina hospital. Overnight, rescue workers with flashlights searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of the largely destroyed Safari Hotel, which is close to Somalia’s foreign ministry.
The explosion blew off metal gates and blast walls erected outside the hotel. Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shebab extremist group for the attack it called a “national disaster.” However, al-Shebab, which often targets high-profile areas of the capital with bombings, had yet to comment. “They don’t care about the lives of Somali people, mothers, fathers and children,” Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said. “They have targeted the most populated area in Mogadishu, killing only civilians.” Somalia’s information minister, Abdirahman Omar, said the blast was the largest the city had ever seen. “It’s a sad day. This how merciless and brutal they are, and we have to unite against them,” he said, speaking to the state-run radio station.
The United States joined the condemnation, saying “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.” The US military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shebab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country. Saturday’s blast occurred two days after the head of the US Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, and two days after the country’s defense minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons. Meanwhile, Maryan Abdullahi’s father had been preparing to fly to Somalia’s capital on Sunday to attend the happiest moment in his daughter’s life: her graduation day.
Instead, he will bury her. On Saturday, the 22-year-old Abdullahi was making final preparations for graduation after years of medical studies when a massive truck bomb detonated in the middle of a Mogadishu street where she was travelling in a car with friends. They were killed in what has been called the single deadliest attack in Somalia’s history. “A sad day. Her family was so proud of her and were counting the hours before her graduation,” said Amino Ahmed, Abdullahi’s classmate, with tears in her reddened eyes. “The life of a rising star was sadly cut short.” As stories of the victims emerged, bewildered family members were still picking their way through the rubble Sunday. Ambulance sirens wailed, and overwhelmed hospitals pleaded for blood donations.
Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by the Somaliabased al-Shebab Islamic extremist group, was stunned by the force of Saturday’s blast. As the huge plume of smoke began to rise, residents said the explosion was the most powerful they’d heard in years. “With a heavy heart I would say this is the worst attack I have ever witnessed,” said Masoud Mohamed, who lost family members in the blast. Parts of the busy Hodan district were flattened, with concrete buildings mangled. Cars burned. Bodies were rushed away by shaken survivors, with bloodied sandals left behind. Children carried away charred remains in cardboard boxes.