By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG — Somali terror group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two suicide car bombings that killed at least a dozen civilians Monday south of the capital city of Mogadishu, the first attack since the group’s leader was killed a week earlier by a U.S. airstrike.
Dozens more were wounded in the explosions, including soldiers from the African Union force, AMISOM, which is fighting al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab to protect Somalia’s fragile government.
News agencies were reporting anywhere between 12 and 24 people killed, many of them passengers in a civilian commuter minibus.
The twin bombings, an hour apart on the same road south of Mogadishu, both targeted AMISOM personnel.
“We are behind the two car bombs driven by mujahedeen,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, head of al-Shabab’s military operations, told Reuters. Al-Shabab claimed four Americans and one South American were killed in the attack, Reuters reported, however the claim couldn’t be verified.
A regional governor, Adukadir Mohammed Sidi, who was reportedly being escorted by the convoy, told news agencies that 12 people in the minibus were killed in the first blast.
Al-Shabab’s future is unclear after the death of its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who took power in 2008, and lately had many rival commanders killed. Godane died in a U.S. airstrike Sept. 1.
Godane’s successor was chosen swiftly, amid speculation that his death could lead to a power struggle within the organization. This weekend, al-Shabab warned of attacks to avenge Godane’s killing.
New leader Abu Ubeid Ahmed Omar, also known as Ahmed Umar Diriye, comes from a small circle of close Godane loyalists, and is a former al-Shabab regional leader in southern Somalia. Stig Jarle Hansen, author of a 2013 book on al-Shabab said the new leader “has a reputation for being efficient. He is a safe choice, well-respected in al-Shabab.”
Hansen said it was rumored Godane appointed his successor through a last will, made before his death.
“The speed was surprisingly swift and impressive. I think this was an attempt to avoid a leadership wrangle that would have been serious for the organization,” he said.
However Hansen said it wasn’t immediately clear whether subcommanders from other regions would accept the choice.
The attack Monday came as Human Rights Watch released a report on sexual abuse of Somalia civilians by AMISOM soldiers, documenting the cases of 21 women and girls who claim to have been raped or sexually exploited by Burundian and Ugandan soldiers when they approached an AMISOM base seeking medical help or food. One case involved a 12-year-old girl.
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