Nine people were killed and several others injured in a double car bomb attack on Tuesday morning in the locality of Mahas, in central Somalia, security sources and witnesses said.
The attack, attributed to radical Islamists Shebab, was carried out in this locality in the province of Hiran, where a vast offensive against Islamist insurgents began several months ago led by clan militias and the Somali army.
“The terrorists (shebab, editor's note) attacked the city of Mahas this morning using vehicles loaded with explosives. They targeted a civilian area and we have confirmed that nine people, all civilians, died in the two explosions,” Abdullahi Adan, a local security official, told AFP by telephone.
According to witnesses contacted by AFP, the explosions took place near a restaurant located near a Mahas district administration building.
“I saw the bodies of nine civilians, including women and children. It was a horrible attack,” said Adan Hassan, a witness.
A Mahas town police commander, Osman Nur, said "innocent civilians" were killed in the two blasts, accusing Al-Shabaab of targeting civilians after they were defeated by the government offensive.
The Shebab, a group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, has been fighting the federal government supported by the international community since 2007. Driven out of the main cities of the country in 2011-2012, they remain firmly established in vast rural areas.
At the beginning of July, local clans in the province of Hiran revolted against the Shebab. The government of Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, which has promised "total war" against the Islamist group, sent the army in September to support these militias known as "macawisley".
This offensive, which has the support of the African Union force in Somalia (Atmis) and American air strikes, has made it possible to reconquer vast territories in two states in the center of the country, Hirshabelle - where the province of Hiran - and Galmudug.
But the insurgents have regularly retaliated with bloody attacks, underscoring their ability to strike at the heart of Somali cities and military installations.
On October 29, two car bombs exploded within minutes of each other in the capital Mogadishu, killing 121 people and injuring 333 others, in the deadliest attack in the Horn of Africa country in five years.
A triple attack in Beledweyne (center), capital of Hiran province, also killed 30 people, including local officials, in early October, and at least 21 customers of a hotel in Mogadishu were previously killed in August in a spectacular 30-hour assault in August.