A truck bomb has killed at least 70 people in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, including a crowd of young students applying for scholarships to study abroad.
Al Qaeda's Somali affiliate al Shabaab quickly claimed credit for the Tuesday morning suicide bombing. The driver of the truck, which was packed with scrap metal, targeted a Somali government building that houses the education ministry, smashing into a security checkpoint.
The students were applying for scholarships offered by the Turkish government, which has been giving money to Islamic charities in Somalia and offering Somali youths who pass exams the opportunity to study in Turkey. A high-ranking official from the Health Ministry was also wounded, according to a government official, as was the secretary general of Somalia's soccer federation.
White House press secretary Jay Carney condemned the bombing as "outrageous." "This despicable and cowardly act took the lives of dozens of innocent civilians, including students takeing an exam in hopes of receiving scholarships to study abroad," said Carney. "Those who carried out these attacks have nothing to offer the people of Somalia except murder and destruction, and they must be held accountable."
The U.N. special representative for Somalia, Dr. Augustine P. Mahiga, also condemned the bombing, calling it a "senseless and cowardly attack," but noted that even though al Shabab has left Mogadishu recently, it is difficult to prevent terror attacks.
The bombing was the deadliest act by al Shabab in Somalia since its campaign of violence began five years ago, and the terror group's largest toll anywhere since it detonated a bomb in the middle of a crowd watching a World Cup soccer game on television in Kampala, Uganda last summer. The Uganda attack, which claimed almost 80 lives, was retribution for the presence of Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia. In June, an explosion killed Somalia's interior minister.
Tuesday's bombing wasn't the first time students have been caught in the crossfire or targeted. In 2009, a suicide bomber attacked a medical school graduation ceremony. Two dozen people died, including doctors, graduating students and government ministers.
In recent months, al Shabab had retreated from Mogadishu, but vowed to continued its guerilla war and still controls much of the countryside. It claimed responsibility for the attack on its website. "Our Mujahideen fighters have entered a place where ministers and AMISOM foreigners stay," said the statement. AMISOM is the acronym for the African Union Mission in Somalia, the peacekeeping force made up of soldiers from Uganda and Burundi dispatched to protect Somalia's fragile transitional government.
Somalia is also suffering a famine that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and is centered in the southern part of the nation controlled by al Shabab. In his statement, Carney also accused al Shabab of denying humanitarian aid to Somalis, despite the fact that 750,000 people are in danger of starvation by year's end, according to U.N. projections.