Twin car bombings rocked Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Saturday causing “scores of casualties”.
A vehicle loaded with explosives was driven into the education ministry compound and was followed by gunfire, police officer Ibrahim Mohamed said.
“In a few minutes another blast occurred in the same area,” he added.
“Many bodies” were at the scene and they appeared to be civilians travelling on public transport, while the second bombing occurred in front of a busy restaurant, The Associated Press reported.
A police officer guarding the ministry, who gave his name as Hassan, said he saw at least 12 bodies and more than 20 people wounded. One hospital worker counted at least 30 bodies.
Blood from victims of the blasts covered the tarmac just outside the building.
“The ruthless terrorists killed mothers, some of them died with their children trapped on their backs,” police spokesman Sadik Dudishe told reporters, adding the attackers targetted “students and other civilians”.
State news agency SONNA said the bombings caused “scores of civilian casualties, including independent journalist Mohamed Isse Kona”.
“Out of the total of at least 30 dead people brought to the hospital, the majority of them are women. I have seen this with my own eyes,” said Hassan Osman, a volunteer at the Medina hospital.
At the hospital, frantic relatives peeked under plastic sheeting and into body bags, looking for loved ones.
Abdikadir Abdirahman, founder of the Aamin Ambulance Service, told Reuters news agency a driver and a first aid worker were injured in the second blast as their ambulance came to transport casualties from the first bombing.
“I saw huge smoke in the ministry area and there is massive destruction,” witness Amino Salad said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the armed group al-Shabab routinely carries out such bombings in Somalia.
Saturday’s explosions occurred at Zobe junction, the scene of a massive al-Shabab blast in 2017 that killed more than 500 people.
Fighters from the group were ousted from Mogadishu in 2011, but they continue to stage attacks on military, government and civilian targets.
The group last week claimed responsibility for a siege of a hotel in the port city of Kismayo that killed nine people and wounded 47 others.
‘Force to be reckoned with’
Thousands of Somalis have been killed in the decade-long rebellion.
In August, al-Shabab launched a 30-hour gun and bomb attack on the popular Hayat hotel in Mogadishu, killing 21 people and wounding 117.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in May, pledged after the August siege to wage “all-out war” on the group. The fighters responded by killing prominent clan leaders in an apparent effort to dissuade support for that government offensive.
Saturday’s attack in Mogadishu occurred on a day when the president, prime minister, and other senior officials were meeting to discuss combating the armed group.
“Al-Shabab is using all its tactics to scare Somalis in the capital. So really this is sort of a last ditch effort from Shabab to make it known to Somalis how savage they are, and how brutal they are by attacking average citizens who are going about their day,” said Hodan Ali, senior adviser to the mayor of Mogadishu.
“They are really a force to be reckoned with. And it will take time for Shabab to be eliminated from the capital, but the work is ongoing,” she told Al Jazeera.