Security agents at scene of truck bomb in Mogadishu Tuesday. (Omar Faruk/Reuters)
The Islamist militant group al-Shabab was being blamed for a suicide truck bomb attack that killed at least 70 people and wounded more than 40 in the Somali capital Mogadishu Tuesday.
The truck bombing occurred near the entrance to the Somali Ministry of Higher Education, and students and their parents were among those killed and wounded, the government said.
"The casualties are mostly students and parents who were waiting for results of scholarships from the Ministry of Higher Education," the Somali government said in a statement, according to an Associated Press report. "The attack shows that the danger from terrorists is not yet over and that there are obviously still people, who want to derail the advances that the Somali people have made towards peace."
The AP reported that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on a website it uses, which read in part: "Our Mujahideen fighters have entered a place where ministers and [African Union Mission in Somalia] AMISOM foreigners stay."
However, counter-terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann disputed that Shabab had yet claimed responsibility for the attack. "Contrary to published reports, the Shabaab movement in Somalia has yet to post a claim of responsibility for a truck bombing in Mogadishu," he wrote on Twitter.
Eyewitnesses described the carnage on the scene as horrific, with wounded victims dispatched to Medina Hospital.
"It is the most awful tragedy I have ever seen," a nurse at the hospital, Ali Abdullahi, told the AP. The suicide attack is the largest in the Somali capital since al-Shabab forces largely retreated from the city in August amid a devastating famine in mostly al-Shabab-controlled parts of southern Somalia.
The White House condemned the terrorist attack as "despicable and cowardly," saying al-Shabab had shown "utter disregard for human life."
"This despicable and cowardly act took the lives of dozens of innocent civilians, including students taking an exam in hopes of receiving scholarships to study abroad," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a written statement to journalists Tuesday. "Those who carried out these attacks have nothing to offer the people of Somalia except murder and destruction, and they must be held accountable."