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Mogadishu - Somalia's al-Shabaab said it had carried out a car bombing that killed at least seven people on Thursday in the capital Mogadishu, targeting security forces at a cafe close to the intelligence headquarters.
Police said seven people had been killed, but some witnesses said they had counted eight corpses among the charred wreckage of the tea shop.
The blast is part of a surge of attacks in the dangerous capital, where the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab is fighting to topple the internationally backed government.
Recent al-Shabaab attacks have targeted key areas of government or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities that they are winning the war against the Islamist fighters.
“We carried out the bombing against officers of the national security,” al-Shabaab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu Musab told AFP, boasting of having killed 11 people, including senior officers.
However, police official Ahmed Mumin told AFP that officers had “counted seven civilians killed in the car bomb,” although adding that the “toll could be higher as many people were also wounded”.
Some witnesses suggested the blast had been detonated by a suicide bomber driving the car, which they said swerved into the cafe reportedly popular with security officials, near the city's Lido beach.
Soldiers fired into the air after the blast to keep crowds back, as some civilians rushed in to pick up the wounded using sheets as makeshift stretchers, said an AFP photographer at the scene.
Ambulances later arrived to pick up the wounded.
The blast comes just a week after al-Shabaab militants carried out a major attack against the heavily fortified presidential palace, killing officials and guards in heavy gun battles.
After that attack, on one of the best-defended locations in the war-torn country, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud branded the al-Shabaab “a marginal group on the brink of extinction” and vowed Somalia's army and the African Union's AMISOM force would “eliminate” them.
Thursday's attack follows a string of al-Shabaab bombings in and around Mogadishu, with night-time mortar rounds fired into the vast, heavily guarded airport complex, home to the 22 000-strong AMISOM force as well as foreign diplomats and aid workers.
The group, who also carried out last year's attack at the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, in which gunmen killed at least 67 people, once controlled most of southern and central Somalia but withdrew from fixed positions in the war-ravaged coastal capital two years ago.
AU troops - including large contingents from Uganda, Kenya and Burundi - have since recaptured the insurgents' main bases and tried to prop up Somalia's fledgling government forces.
But al-Shabaab guerrilla units have carried out a spate of killings in the capital, and their continued presence has dampened hopes the group was in the process of imploding amid a fierce internal power struggle.
However, Ethiopia, which joined the AU force last month, two years after sending troops back into Somalia to battle the al-Shabaab, is reportedly massing its forces in the central Hiran region ahead of the latest push against al-Shabaab-held towns. - AFP