Nineteen people have been killed in two car bombings in central Somalia claimed by al-Shabaab militants, a local militia commander in the Hiran region said.
Two cars packed with explosives were simultaneously detonated in Mahas – a town in Hiran where a major offensive was launched last year against the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group.
"Nineteen people, including members of the security forces and civilians, died in the blasts," said Mohamed Moalim Adan, a leader of a community militia allied with the government in Mahas.
Abdikarim Hassan, a traditional elder in Mahas, said "nearly 20 people died in the blasts" and most were civilians.
Another community leader, Mohamud Suleyman, said 52 people were wounded and "most were transported to Mogadishu for treatment".
Security officials and local leaders said two military bases were targeted in Mahas in retaliation for operations against the militants.
Al-Shabaab’s media office claimed responsibility in a statement, saying it had targeted "apostate militias and soldiers" at military bases in Mahas and also attacked another base in Dadan 'Ad, about 17 kilometres away.
It put the number of dead at 87.
The National Disaster Management has activated its Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) for those who got injured in Wednesday’s terrorist attacks in #Mahas District of #Hiiraan region.#Somalia pic.twitter.com/rsBfvZvCm1— SNTV News (@sntvnews1) January 4, 2023
"The terrorists, after having [been] defeated, resorted to desperately targeting civilians, but this will not stop the will of the people to continue defeating them," said Osman Nur, a police commander in Mahas.
“They have killed innocent civilians in the explosions,” he added.
Al-Shabaab have been seeking to overthrow the fragile foreign-backed government in Mogadishu for the past 15 years.
It was pushed out of Hiran last year by government forces and allied clan militias known as Macawisley – helped by the United States and African Union troops.
But the militants continued to stage attacks, including several in the capital Mogadishu against government installations and hotels.
100 people were killed in the capital in two car bomb explosions on 29 October at the education ministry, and eight civilians died in a 21-hour hotel siege on 27 November.
Al-Shabaab’s activities have also restricted deliveries of international aid, compounding the impact of the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in four decades.
As a result of severe food insecurity, several parts of the country are in danger of famine in the coming months, according to the UN and other experts.
More than 8 million people face an unprecedented level of need after five consecutive failed rainy seasons coupled with high food prices due to supply disruptions caused by Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.