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Devastating attack in Somalia shows Al-Shabaab is still a grave threat

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At least 300 people, including 15 children, were killed by two truck bombs in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Saturday — the single worst attack in the country’s history and one that shows the continued strength of the extremist group al-Shabaab.

One of the bombs was detonated at a busy city intersection and was believed to be headed towards a nearby government ministry before the truck got stuck in traffic. The explosion ignited a nearby fuel tanker, and destroyed an area the size of “two or three football fields.”

Aden Nur, a doctor at the city’s Madine hospital, told The Guardian that the heat from the blast was so intense that 160 bodies were unrecognizable. Aamin Ambulance, Mogadishu’s only free ambulance service, tweeted that it was the worst attack officials had ever seen.

Although no group has yet taken responsibility for the horrendous attack, Somali security officials believe the bombing was the work of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliated group which vowed earlier this year to increase its attacks after both the U.S. and Somalian governments announced new efforts against the group.

“Whether they claim it or not makes no difference, we know the act has happened, it’s al-Shabaab,” former intelligence officer Abdi Hassan Hussein told Voice of America (VOA News). “The information we are getting so far shows this is the work of al-Shabaab, it has their hallmarks.”

Al-Shabaab, which means “The Youth” in Arabic, has waged a violent insurgency against the Somali government for years. A 22,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force, backed up by U.S. airstrikes and special operations, has forced the group to abandon many of its strongholds, but its fighters still pose a danger to residents and neighboring countries (al-Shabaab has also launched attacks across Somalia’s southern border into Kenya).

According to the Long War Journal, the U.S. military has conducted at least 15 airstrikes against al-Shabaab leaders, fighters, and camps since January 2017. Earlier in May, a Navy SEAL was killed raiding an al-Shabaab compound. In July, a U.S. airstrike killed a senior al-Shabaab commander, and U.S. Africa Command said it would degrade the group’s ability to conduct coordinated attacks. However, this latest attack shows the group’s continued threat.

The bombings place added strain on a Somali government which is already grappling with a devastating famine, the result of a severe drought. In March, the UN estimated that more than 6 million people — more than half the country — were in need of food assistance. There are fears that the U.S.-backed offensive against al-Shabaab could destabilize the country further and make it harder to deliver aid.

World leaders have since condemned the attack in Mogadishu over the weekend. A State Department release stated that the United States would “continue to stand with the Somali government, its people and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security and prosperity.” British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the U.K. condemned the “cowardly attacks in Mogadishu, which have claimed so many innocent lives.” Eiffel Tower management also announced plans to turn off the tower lights in solidarity on Monday.

Still, some on social media have questioned why the attack received little acknowledgement in the media, especially in light of the recent Las Vegas attack, which left 58 people dead and its related coverage, and a swell of other recent attacks across the globe.

“The # of people killed in Somalia yesterday was 10x more than the # killed in Manchester in May (230 to 22),” law professor Khaled Beydoun tweeted. “But it got 100x less coverage.”

“Imagine if 250+ ppl in the US or UK or France were killed in a truck bomb,” Clint Smith, a PhD candidate at Harvard, wrote. “That’s what just happened in Somalia. They deserve to be mourned.”

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