“It was a truck loaded with explosive devices that forcefully passed through the government-manned checkpoint, and a pick-up vehicle belonging to security personnel was chasing it when it exploded,” witness Abdikadir Arba, who said he was about 200 meters (656 feet) away and was one of the first responders, told The Associated Press by phone.
Buildings turned into rubble
Videos circulating on social media, with some of them confirmed by Al Jazeera, depict residents engaged in the search for survivors amidst the wreckage of the demolished structures.
According to police officer Ahmed Aden, who spoke to the Reuters news agency, buildings, and shops near the explosion site were completely flattened.
A woman, Halima Nur, who was near the site, told Reuters her niece and others had been in a nearby shop and could not be reached. “I do not know what to say, all the kiosks are now just rubble. I can’t trace my niece,” she said.
No specific group has taken responsibility for the explosion in the central Somali town situated within the Hiran region.
This area has recently been a battleground between the military and the al-Shabab armed group.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated organization has escalated its attacks since Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who secured a second term in office last year, declared a comprehensive offensive against the group. Al-Shabab aims to overthrow the fragile internationally-supported government in Mogadishu.
On Friday, government forces asserted that they had killed numerous fighters in the Galmudug state.
For the past 15 years, the Horn of Africa nation has grappled with armed uprisings, with the primary threats stemming from both al-Shabab and ISIS-linked (ISIL) militant groups.
Despite being driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, the al-Shabab armed group still retains control over extensive rural areas.
President Mohamud, who has been recently visiting the front lines, stated in August that government forces intend to “eradicate” these armed groups by year’s end.