At least seven Somalis were killed when a remote-controlled bomb aimed at a United Nations convoy tore through cars and tea shops just outside the capital's international airport on Thursday.
Al-Shabab, the Somali militant group known for its attacks on civilians, claimed responsibility for the carnage, which damaged one U.N. vehicle. A U.N. official said none of its staff members were hurt.
"A car laden with explosives was remotely exploded in front of a tea shop just outside the airport," senior police official Colonel Abdikadir Ahmed said.
At least 15 people were wounded, Ahmed said. It was not clear if that included the Somalis escorting the U.N. convoy.
The strike, one of several in recent weeks, was a further reminder of the threat still posed by the group since peacekeepers, under the auspices of the African Union, pushed Al-Shabab out of the capital to the south of the country in 2011.
While that action caused the group to scatter and has made it difficult for Shabab to hold onto territory the way it has in the past, it continues to be a thriving guerilla force. Shabab's frequent attacks come at a high political cost to those supporting the beleaguered Somali central government — which Shabab opposes — and the group regularly thwarts efforts by outside countries to support that government.
While Shabab generally targets groups within Somalia, it is also known for high-level attacks outside the country as well.
In July 2010, its fighters killed 74 people in an infamous attack in Kampala, Uganda where it attacked, among other targets, a group of people watching the 2010 World Cup final.
And last September, the group killed scores in the brutal attack on civilians at an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, as a warning to Kenya’s participation in the African Union force fighting the militant group.
Meanwhile, Somalia's fragile government is struggling to impose any sense of order more than two decades after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre tipped the country into chaos.
Smoke blanketed the area after the airport bombing and charred human remains could be seen near a burnt car, a Reuters photographer said. Ambulances carried away the dead and injured.
Shabab said the blast was carried out by a suicide bomber, and that "three U.N. white men" — a reference to foreigners — were killed in the blast along with 13 Somali soldiers guarding the officials.
Mogadishu's heavily-guarded airport, which is often compared to the Green Zone in Baghdad, has several safety perimeter fences and checkpoints, and houses the newly built British embassy along with a large U.N. compound.
Many diplomats live in Nairobi as it is not safe to stay in Mogadishu, and when they visit Somalia do not venture outside the airport.
Gunmen used a car bomb to blow a hole in the U.N. compound's wall nearby last year and the ensuing firefight killed 22 people, including U.N. staff.
One Western diplomat said the nature of the attack showed security remained a major problem in the capital, where Shabab the previous night fired mortar rounds at the presidential palace.
"It shows (Shabab) can strike at will, including right in front of the airport," the diplomat said of the car bomb.
"We expect more attacks."
Reuters. With additional reporting by Tom Kutsch.