March 13, 2017 / 7:33 AM / 5 months ago

Car bomb kills at least 13 in Somali capital: police, medics

Security officers arrive to secure the scene of an explosion near Wehliye Hotel on Maka al Mukaram street in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 13, 2017.Feisal Omar

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A car bomb near a hotel on a busy street in the Somali capital killed at least 13 people on Monday, police and the emergency medical services said, hours after a man was killed by a blast as he tried to ram through a checkpoint.

Police said the blast damaged a house on Maka al Mukaram street but did not destroy its target, the Wehliye Hotel.

"We have carried 13 dead people and 14 others are injured. The death toll may rise further," Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of aid-funded Aamin Ambulance services, told Reuters.

A spokesman for Somali Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab claimed the attack.

"We were behind the Maka al Mukaram street blast. We killed 17 people, including senior officials of military and security and former lawmakers," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman, told Reuters by phone.

A general view shows security officials securing the scene of an explosion near Wehliye Hotel on Maka al Mukaram street in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 13, 2017.Feisal Omar

Earlier on Monday, police shot at a minibus, also in Mogadishu, when the driver refused to stop as it approached a checkpoint. The minibus exploded, wounding two bystanders and killing the driver, police officer Nur Osman told Reuters.

"A policeman at a checkpoint shot at the speeding minibus. It exploded and killed the al Shabaab fighter that drove it," he said.

Slideshow (2 Images)

In recent years, al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab has lost most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the U.N.-backed Somali government.

But the insurgents frequently launch deadly gun, grenade and bomb attacks in Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government. Many attacks are aimed at military bases but some also target civilians.

"There is a trend of increasingly targeting hotels since 2015," Greg Robin, an IED expert at Nairobi-based thinktank Sahan Research. "This is where government operatives stay or have meals or meetings. They are specifically targeted."

The insurgents were also increasing their use of large truck bombs, he said. Only one such attack happened in 2015 but there were six in 2016 and two so far this year.

Additional reporting by Abdirahman Hussein and Feisal Omar in Mogadishu and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Louise Ireland

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