Former Al-Shabab Leader: Mogadishu Blast Was 'Barbaric'
A former top leader of militant group al-Shabab has condemned the massive explosion that killed at least 276 people in the Somali capital on Saturday.
Mukhtar Robow, al-Shabab's former deputy emir, spoke Monday after visiting Medina Hospital in Mogadishu to donate blood. He said the attack was "barbaric" and "a massive tragedy."
"Those who are behind this, whose fingerprints are on this, must refrain from shedding the blood of Muslims and repent. You are not going to go to paradise by killing innocents," he told reporters.
"People who are doing this must stop... I mean al-Shabab," he said.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing, the deadliest single attack in Somalia's history. But the Somali government and terrorism experts strongly believe al-Shabab was responsible.
"Whether they claim or not claim makes no difference, we know the act that has happened, it’s al-Shabab,” former intelligence officer Abdi Hassan Hussein told VOA. “The information we are getting so far shows this is the work of al-Shabab, it has their hallmarks."
Robow, who defected to the government side earlier this year, was a founder of al-Shabab and was the number-two leader of the group as it battled the government and African Union forces for control of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011.
During that time, the group carried out several deadly suicide attacks on Mogadishu hotels, most notably a 2010 attack on the Hotel Muna that killed 33 people, including six members of parliament.
The Somali government said Monday that the death toll from Saturday's attack is likely to rise as bodies continue to be recovered from the rubble of buildings destroyed in the explosion.
Four hundred twenty nine people have been taken to Mogadishu hospitals for injuries sustained in the blast, according to figures provided by local ambulance services.
They say more than 30 badly wounded patients were flown to Turkey on Monday for treatment, including VOA Somali Service reporter Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle.
Mogadishu's hospitals have been struggling to treat the badly burned victims. "This is really horrendous, unlike any other time in the past," said Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director of Medina hospital.
The Somali government has called for three days of national mourning and flying flags at half-mast. President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has condemned the attack as “barbaric”.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department condemned the attack "in the strongest terms."
"In the face of this senseless and cowardly act, the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity," a statement said.
Rally against al-Shabab
Hundreds of residents on Sunday marched to the scene of the attack, condemning the militant group.
Some protesters wept as they reached the scene and saw the apocalyptic aftermath of the explosion. The truck bomb turned one of Mogadishu’s most beautiful junctions into death and destruction.
Dr. Yusuf described what happened after the explosion Saturday afternoon.
“We were preparing to leave work for the day but then huge blast occurred, we were shocked, within five minutes ambulances brought in the wounded,” he said. “We have received many dead people, unlike we have ever seen. The hospital is working, we are lacking intensive care equipment, we get support from ICRC but we are still lacking full capacity.”
Maryan Abdullahi, 21, just finished Banadir University where she studied medicine. She left her volunteer work at Banadir hospital Saturday and was waiting for a bus when the explosion occurred. She was killed instantly. Her mother Hindo Yuusuf called her daughter's phone as soon as she heard about the location of the explosion.
“I called her number immediately but someone else answered and they said the owner of the phone died, her body is near the hotel [Safari],” she told VOA Somali.
Abdullahi’s father flew from London Saturday to attend his daughter’s graduation from the university. He arrived in Mogadishu Sunday morning and attended her funeral instead.
Also killed were five members of the same family who were running a clothing shop.
Aweys Moallim Ali is a cousin of the family. He too was wounded in the attack. He said his relatives own two shops but they gathered into one before the explosion.
“They were doing accounting work about the sales made so far so that they can make zakat [alms] payment. They closed the other shop and were meeting in a shop near Hotel Safari,” he said.