Somalis defy police to protest against deadly truck bombings

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Thousands of Somalis demonstrated on Wednesday against those behind bombings that killed more than 300 people, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from the site where their loved-ones were killed.

Protesters shout out slogans against Al-Shabaab militant group while demonstrating after last weekend's explosion in KM4 street in the Hodan district at the stadium Koonis in Mogadishu, Somalia October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

The twin blasts in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday also injured more than 400 in what were the country’s deadliest truck bombings.

Police initially opened fire to prevent people from accessing the rubble-strewn scene of the attack, injuring at least two people, the emergency response service said. But, overwhelmed by the number of people, they eventually let thousands of protesters gather at the site.

Residents said they had never seen such a big protest in the city.

“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, a mother who lost six of her relatives in the attacks.

The Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which began an insurgency in 2007, has not claimed responsibility, but the method and type of attack - a large truck bomb - is increasingly used by the al Qaeda-linked organization.

Mohamed Ali, a police captain at the scene, said it was fine for protesters to access the site to express their grief.

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“For some who could not see their relatives alive or dead, the only chance they have is to at least see the spot where their beloved were killed,” he told Reuters.

Later President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addressed demonstrators at a football field in the city and called on Somalis to join the national army.

“Take your guns and let’s liberate our country. Come forward for recruitment (into) government forces in order to fight and eliminate al Shabaab,” he said.

The government buried at least 160 of those killed because they could not be identified after the blast.

Masked security officers kept an eye on the protest on foot and on motorbikes. Some protesters sat on police trucks waving sticks and chanting: “We do not want al Shabaab”.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have been steadily losing territory. But they retain the capacity to mount large bomb attacks.

Over the past three years, the number of civilians killed by insurgent bombings has steadily climbed as al Shabaab increases the size of its bombs.

In the central town of Dusamareb, residents also marched for several hours to protest against the bombings in Mogadishu and clerics called for the war on the militants to be stepped up.

Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Aamin Ambulances, said one pregnant demonstrator was evacuated from the Mogadishu protest after she developed complications.

“The other two were also demonstrating. They were injured by bullets which the police fired to disperse the demonstrators who wanted to enter the blast scene by force,” he said.

Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Janet Lawrence