Dozens still missing as Somalia truck bombing death toll surpasses 300
Critically injured victims airlifted to Turkey as local hospitals struggle to keep up
More than 300 people were killed in the weekend truck bombing in Somalia's capital and scores remained missing, authorities said Monday, as the fragile Horn of Africa nation reeled from one of the world's worst attacks in years.
As funerals continued, the government said the death toll was expected to rise.
Nearly 400 people were injured after Saturday's bombing targeted a crowded street in Mogadishu. Somalia's government blamed the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab, though the Islamic extremist group has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
A new statement by the SITE Intelligence Group said al-Shabaab posted claims of responsibility as recently as Monday for other attacks on Somali and African Union forces — but not for Saturday's blast.
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Still, analysts said there was little doubt the Islamic extremist group carried out the bombing, one of the deadliest in sub-Saharan Africa. "No other group in Somalia has the capacity to put together a bomb of this size, in this nature," said Matt Bryden, a security consultant on the Horn of Africa.
Nearly 70 people remained missing, based on accounts from relatives, said police Capt. Mohamed Hussein. He said many bodies were burned to ashes in the attack.
More than 70 critically injured people were airlifted to Turkey for treatment as international aid began to arrive, officials said. Nervous relatives stood on the tarmac at the airport, praying for the recovery of their loved ones.
Overwhelmed hospitals in Mogadishu were struggling to treat badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition. Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open as the screams from victims and bereaved families echoed in the halls.
3 days of mourning
Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group, al-Shabaab has waged war in Somalia for more than a decade, often targeting high-profile areas of the capital.
Earlier this year, it vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia's recently elected Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced new military efforts against the group.
After Saturday's attack, Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a plea by hospitals to donate blood.
Countries including Kenya and Ethiopia have offered to send medical aid in response to what Somali's government called a "national disaster," Information Minister Abdirahman Osman said.
A plane carrying a medical team from Djibouti arrived to evacuate the wounded, according to health ministry official Mohamed Ahmed. It was the second team of foreign doctors to arrive in Mogadishu.
A city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabaab, Mogadishu was stunned by the force of Saturday's blast. The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government's ability to secure the seaside city of more than two million people.
The United States has condemned the bombing, 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." It tweeted a photo of its chargé d'affaires in Somalia donating blood. But the U.S. Africa Command said U.S. forces had not been asked to provide aid.
The U.S. military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabaab, 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 U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia's president, and two days after the country's defence minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.
The United Nations special envoy to Somalia called the attack "revolting." Michael Keating said the UN and African Union were supporting the Somali government's response with "logistical support, medical supplies and expertise."