Twin car bombs explode in Somali capital, killing at least 18

Two car bomb blasts rocked Somalia's capital on Friday evening, followed by gunfire, killing at least 18 people, an ambulance service says. The extremist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Extremist group al-Shabaab claims responsibility

A wounded civilian arrives for medical treatment at the Madina Hospital after he was injured during an explosion near the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia Friday. (Feisal Omar/Reuters)

Two car bomb blasts in Somalia's capital killed at least 18 people on Friday and shattered a months-long period of calm in Mogadishu, which is often the target of attacks by the al-Shabaab extremist group.

The explosions came a day after Somalia's interior minister warned of an explosives-laden vehicle somewhere in the capital.

The first blast, apparently caused by a suicide car bomber, occurred near Somalia's intelligence headquarters, police Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press.

He said the second blast occurred near parliament's headquarters, where the vehicle had tried to speed through a checkpoint before security forces engaged with the gunmen suspected of trying to attack the presidential palace.

The explosions shattered a months-long period of calm in Mogadishu, which is often the target of attacks by the al-Shabaab extremist group. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bombings. (CBC)

The Aamin Ambulance service ferried 18 bodies and another 20 injured people after the blasts, director Abdirahman Abdulqadir said.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack via its radio arm, Andalus.

Mogadishu was the target of a truck bombing in October that killed 512 people in the deadliest attack in the Horn of Africa nation's history. Only a few attacks since 9/11 have killed more people. The Somalia-based al-Shabaab was blamed.

Mogadishu has been rocked by deadly bomb explosions in the single deadliest attack in Somalia's history. 1:49

Concerns have been high over plans to hand over Somalia's security to the country's own forces as a 21,000-strong African Union force begins a withdrawal that is expected to be complete in 2020. 

On Thursday, the head of the AU force, Francisco Madeira, said the option of ending the pullout before 2021 "could bring about a serious risk of reversals that could derail the gains already made." Somali forces, he said, are not yet ready.

Relatives and medical staff wait by arriving ambulances at a hospital. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/Associated Press)