Mogadishu - Several people were killed when a powerful suicide car bomb exploded near Somalia's parliament in the capital Mogadishu on Saturday, police and witnesses said.
Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a surge of attacks in Mogadishu during Islam's holy month of Ramadaan.
“A car loaded with explosives was intercepted near the parliament and it went off. There are casualties but we don't have details so far,” police official Mohamed Idle told AFP. He confirmed a suicide bomber was in the car.
Police and witnesses at the scene said three police officers and the suicide bomber died in the blast.
“I saw the dead bodies of three police and the severed body parts of what looked like the suicide bomber under the wreckage of the detonated car. The police sealed off the area and all civilians were ordered to leave,” said eyewitness Ahmed Malin.
Several other witnesses said they saw ambulances taking away the wounded, most of them civilians collected from the scene of the explosion. Abdikarim Jirow, another witness, said around nine wounded persons have been carried out of the attack scene.
An AFP photographer saw around 13 wounded civilians, seven of them internally displaced people who lived at a camp near the attack scene.
The Shebab, who have carried out frequent attacks against the parliament and other centres of Somalia's fragile, internationally-backed government, said they were responsible and vowed their attacks would continue.
“We killed more than a dozen so-called police members after sacrificial attack at the main entrance of parliament buildings,” Abdulaziz Abu Musab, military spokesman of the Shebab, told AFP.
“We want to tell them that the MPs are not safe anywhere in Mogadishu. By the grace of Allah more attacks will come and continue.”
Last month militants from the Shebab set off a car bomb at the gates of parliament and then stormed the building while MPs were meeting in an attack that left several dead.
At the time a Shebab spokesman described the parliament as a “military zone” and a legitimate target. On Thursday the Shebab claimed responsibility for shooting dead a lawmaker and his bodyguard. In April two other MPs were also assassinated in Mogadishu.
In February the militant carried out a major assault against the heavily-fortified presidential palace, which saw a car bomb go off at the gates of the compound followed by an attack by suicide gunmen which left at least 16 dead including the attackers.
Hardline Shebab insurgents once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, including large parts of the capital, but were driven out of fixed positions in Mogadishu and Somalia's major towns by a 22 000-strong African Union force.
AU troops launched a fresh offensive in March against Shebab bases. Although they seized a series of towns, the insurgents are thought to have fled in advance and suffered few casualties.