(Adds former governor was target)
MOGADISHU, May 12 (Reuters) - A car bomb killed at least 12 people, including Somali soldiers and civilians, on Monday in a city that was once a stronghold of al Qaeda-linked rebels, police said.
Baidoa - about 250 km (150 miles) southwest of Mogadishu - was the second most important city for Al Shabaab insurgents after the port of Kismayu, before they were routed by Ethiopian troops in 2012.
“A car bomb killed 12 people including government forces and residents,” Captain Nur Aden, a police officer, told Reuters by telephone from Baidoa.
“The car bomb was targeted at the former governor of Bay region who was by then in a local bank opposite the cafeteria. His cars and others which were also parked there were destroyed. Some of his bodyguards were seriously injured. Most of the people who died were residents who were in the cafe.”
There was no immediate claim for the attack. Al Shabaab could not be reached for comment.
“I have counted 12 people (dead) including five of my colleagues,” Mohamed Hussein, a worker at the bank, told Reuters by telephone.
“I see destroyed cars and dead people lying in front of me. I believe the explosion was targeted at government officials and forces who were passing there by car.”
The capital Mogadishu has been hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks in the past few months, claimed by al Shabaab, which has waged a sustained guerrilla campaign even after being pushed out of the city in mid-2011.
Somalia’s government is struggling to impose any sense of order, more than two decades after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre tipped the country into chaos.
Western nations involved in Somalia worry it could sink back into chaos and provide a launch pad for Islamist militancy. (Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)