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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A massive car bomb exploded in a busy area of Mogadishu on Saturday, leaving at least 76 people dead, many of them university students, officials said.
The blast occurred in a busy area of the city where traffic is heavy because of a security checkpoint and a tax office.
Rescuers carried dead bodies past the twisted wreckage of a vehicle and minibus taxis smeared with blood.
Mogadishu is regularly hit by car bombings and attacks waged by Al Shabab Islamist militants allied to Al-Qaeda.
It was one of the deadliest attacks in Mogadishu in recent memory.
Many of those killed are believed to be university students whose bus was hit by the blast. Two Turkish nationals also died, police said.
"The number of casualties we have confirmed is 76 dead and 70 wounded, it could still be higher," the director of the private Aamin Ambulance service, Abdukadir Abdirahman Haji, said.
Captain Mohamed Hussein said the blast targeted a tax collection centre during the morning rush hour as Somalia returned to work after its weekend.
Children were among the wounded. Also among them were several university students who had been traveling in a bus, Hussein said. Photos from the scene showed the mangled frames of vehicles.
A large black plume of smoke rose above the capital.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. But Al Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu several years ago but continues to target high-profile areas such as checkpoints and hotels in the seaside city.
After the sound of a huge blast at the Ex-Control checkpoint, 55-year-old Sabdow Ali, who lives nearby, said he left his house and counted at least 13 people dead.
"Dozens of injured people were screaming for help but the police immediately opened fire and I rushed back to my house," he said.
The injured were transported to Medina Hospital, where a witness saw dozens arriving by ambulance from the scene.
The attack again raises concern about the readiness of Somali forces to take over responsibility for the Horn of Africa country's security in the coming months from an African Union force.
Al-Shabab, the target of a growing number of US airstrikes since President Donald Trump took office, controls parts of Somalia's southern and central regions. It funds itself with a "taxation" system that experts describe as extortion of businesses and travellers that brings in millions of dollars a year.
Updated: December 28, 2019 02:27 PM
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