, MOGADISHU, May 2 – Two explosions rocked a mosque Saturday in Somalia\’s restive capital Mogadishu, killing at least 25 people and leaving scores injured, officials said, in the deadliest blast in five months.
"The collected bodies I counted numbered 25," Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu\’s ambulance service, told AFP.
He had earlier put the death toll at about six, but explained that many bodies were removed by family members before he arrived on the scene.
The blasts, whose cause is still unknown, went off in the crowded Bakara market area, an Islamist stronghold, just as people finished midday prayers in a mosque there.
Explosions are common in Mogadishu but Saturday\’s incident was the worst since a suicide bombing in a hotel in December killed 57 people, including several government ministers.
"Many people were inside the mosque when the huge explosions went off. I was not far away and I saw people being brought out of the mosque, everyone was bleeding and some were already dead," witness Shukri Yahye said.
"These were the heaviest explosions ever inside Bakara. It was near the mosque and it was hard to distinguish between the dead and the wounded," Abdulahi Mohamed Hersi, a grocer, said, claiming that around 30 people died.
"I was planning to leave the area when the first explosion hit near one of the gates of the mosque and there was smoke and flames everywhere around, it was terrible," said Adan Weli, who was slightly injured in the attack.
An official with the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab Islamist group, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, had no precise death toll but confirmed "scores of people were killed and wounded."
Another Shebab official earlier told AFP the blasts targeted its head of mobilisation Sheikh Fu\’ad Mohamed Khalaf, better known as Fu\’ad Shongole, who was in the mosque.
That official, who asked not to be named, said Shongole was unhurt. Rage however said Shongole was "wounded on the right arm but will recover".
"This was an act of terrorism carried out by mercenaries hired by the so-called government of Somalia," Rage charged, saying his group will retaliate.
"We are investigating the situation. This kind of action will not be left unanswered. On behalf of the Muslim people of Somalia and on behalf of Allah we will retaliate against this crime," he said.
The African Union condemned the explosions in a statement by Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, one of its top Somalia officials.
"Indiscriminate attacks on public places like today\’s incident cannot be condoned. I, on behalf of the African Union would like to call upon all warring parties in the Somali conflict to stop such barbaric attacks on innocent civilian population," Diarra said.
The Shebab, whose leadership has proclaimed allegiance to Osama bin Laden\’s Al Qaeda network, has been fighting the fragile government and its AU allies alongside Hezb al-Islam, a smaller Islamist outfit.
The origin of Saturday\’s blast remains unclear.
Security reports indicate that in recent months as government and AU forces were preparing for an all-out offensive to dislodge Shebab from their positions in Mogadishu, insurgents planted bombs in the city to hamper the government\’s advance.
Since then several insurgents are believed to have died in accidental explosions.
Saturday\’s blasts however occurred in an Islamist stronghold and are unlikely to be the result of explosive devices planted by insurgents.
The Shebab last week attempted a suicide attack on the base of AU troops in Mogadishu but the peacekeepers foiled the attack.
Shebab said the attack was in retaliation for the recent killing of top Al Qaeda commanders in Iraq.