NAIROBI, Kenya — A large explosion killed at least eight people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Wednesday, according to the head of an ambulance service, the latest attack to hit Somalia’s capital as the country grapples with political infighting and a growing humanitarian crisis.
The car explosion occurred just before noon on a road leading to Mogadishu’s international airport, according to Abdulkadir Adan, the founder of the ambulance service, Aamin Ambulance, Mogadishu’s only free ambulance service. The road also services a major police academy and a compound where United Nations and foreign government staff members and officials live.
The bombing, part of a string of attacks blamed on the Qaeda-linked Al Shabab extremist group that have gripped Somalia in recent months, comes as the country’s leaders struggle to resolve a political crisis that has distracted the government from the deteriorating security situation.
Somali Memo, a news website affiliated with Al Shabab, said the militants claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday. It said the group had targeted “a convoy of vehicles carrying white security officers.”
Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, a government spokesman, condemned what he described as a suicide attack, calling it “cowardly.”
“Such acts of terrorism will not derail the peace & the ongoing development in the country,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must unite in the fight against terrorism.”
Details about how the attack was conducted were not immediately available. The spokesman for the Somali police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed a plume of smoke rising from a mangled vehicle at the site of the bombing along with damaged buildings. Witnesses said the explosion could be heard in many of the city’s districts.
The explosion has hit the country as it undergoes a tense election period that has seen growing infighting among its political leaders.
In December, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed suspended Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble over accusations of corruption. Mr. Roble has refused to step down, claiming that Mr. Mohamed — whose official term lapsed in February, but who has stayed in office — is trying “to overthrow the government, the Constitution and the laws of the land.”
The political struggle has threatened to tip the country into violent conflict, like the clashes that broke out in April, and reverse the modicum of peace and stability Somalia has achieved in recent years.
After weeks of wrangling, Mr. Mohamed on Monday backed a plan by the prime minister and other regional leaders to conclude parliamentary elections by Feb. 25 — more than a year after they were originally planned. On Tuesday, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, called on Somali officials to complete the long-delayed elections and deal with the divisions that have hampered the process.
“The United States is prepared to draw on relevant tools, potentially including visa restrictions, to respond to further delays or actions that undermine the integrity of the process,” Mr. Price said.
On Thursday, supporters of Mr. Roble are expected to demonstrate in the capital to show support for the prime minister, a move that could heighten tensions.
As disagreements over the elections have persisted, Al Shabab have stepped up their attacks, particularly in the capital. Over the past two months, the group has carried out car bomb explosions, assassinated government officials and attacked election centers — efforts analysts say are aimed at undermining the electoral process.
The militant group has taken advantage of the infighting between Somali political forces as well by attacking and capturing towns where they had not been active for more than a decade.
The country’s instability has also been aggravated by political divisions in the semiautonomous northeastern state of Puntland, where clashes between government forces — including a U.S.-trained elite unit — have diverted attention from the fight against Al Shabab.
The security situation in Somalia is deteriorating, and parts of the country are facing their driest season in around four decades. An estimated 3.8 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity, according to the United Nations, with almost three million displaced within the country.
“As long as the election cycle and current tensions drag on, the attention of the political elite will be more inwardly focused, while other priorities lag behind,” said Omar S. Mahmood, a senior Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group. “This unfortunately creates greater space for Al Shabab to operate.”
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
Car Bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia’s Capital, Kills 8 – The New York Times