MOGADISHU: Twin car bombs exploded in Somalia`s capital on Friday, killing 18 people and wounding 20 others, the city`s ambulance service said, and Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shooting broke out near the president`s residence at the time of the blasts, police and ambulance services said.
"So far we carried 18 dead people and 20 others injured from the blasts tonight," Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Amin ambulances, told Reuters.
A big cloud of smoke rose near the palace and gunfire erupted near the president`s residence, a Reuters witness said.
Police and witnesses said the second blast was a car bomb parked in front of a hotel away from the palace.
Police said the first car bomb went off after suspected militants breached a checkpoint near the president`s residence by shooting at security personnel at the checkpoint.
"The militants got off when they neared the palace, the suicide car bomb exploded outside the palace where there were many military soldiers who guarded the street adjacent to the palace," Major Omar Abdullahi told Reuters.
Al Shabaab, who have claimed responsibility for previous bombings and gun attacks in the capital, said they killed 15 soldiers in Friday`s attack.
"Two operations including two car bomb martyrdoms went on around the presidential palace and a national security forces’ base called Habar Kadija," al Shabaab`s military spokesman, Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters.
The group, which is linked to al Qaeda, wants to overthrow the Somali government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law. It has killed hundreds of civilians across East Africa and thousands of Somalis in a decade-long insurgency.
The streets around the palace and near the new hotel were surrounded by security forces who denied access to ambulances and reporters, witnesses said.
In October, more than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu. The bomb attacks were the deadliest since al Shabaab began an insurgency in 2007. Al Shabaab did not claim responsibility for that incident.