The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the truck bomb attack of Dec. 28 in Mogadishu, which killed at least 80 people and wounded 78 others, while saying that a Turkish convoy was the target of the attack.
The official spokesman for the group, Ali Mohamud Rageh, known as Ali Dhere, made the statement via the group's official station, Radio Andalus.
"On Dec. 28, the Mujahedeen executed an attack at Ex-Control [junction], targeting an enemy Turkish convoy and the militias who were guarding them," he said.
"It hit the convoy and inflicted heavy losses on the Turks and the apostate militias who were protecting them."
The al-Shabab spokesman admitted civilians were killed in the explosion. While he said he regretted the loss of civilian lives, he also justified it, saying, "Protecting religion comes before saving a life."
Two Turkish engineers working on a road construction project were among those killed in the attack. Ali Dhere has accused Turkey of training Somali forces and for "taking over economic resources" in Somalia.
Turkey has been training the Somali army at a modern training facility in Mogadishu inaugurated in September 2017. Turkey has also implemented development projects in Somalia, including rebuilding roads, buildings and hospitals.
Foreign country involvement
Earlier, Somalia's national intelligence agency accused an unidentified foreign country of planning the deadly truck bombing.
"We have submitted to the national leaders a preliminary report indicating that the massacre against the Somali people in Mogadishu on 28 December 2019 was planned by a foreign country," the National Intelligence and Security Agency of Somalia (NISA) said in a tweet Monday.
"To complete the ongoing investigation we will seek cooperation from some of the international intelligence agencies," it added.
NISA did not identify the country it accuses of involvement in the bombing, nor did it provide evidence backing up the claim.
The allegation appears to contradict earlier statements by the leaders of the federal government of Somalia. President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo on Dec. 28 blamed al-Shabab, saying the militant group was bent on killing civilians and children.
"Shabab don't build, they destroy," he said. "They don't build schools, they don't build health centers, they don't feed children. They are contracted on preventing progress and killing the people and children of Somalia."
Opposition politicians accused NISA of "misleading the public" with the latest accusation. Abdirahman Abdishakur of Wadajir Party wrote: "For the NISA to claim that a foreign country was behind the ex-control Afgoye attack... doesn’t only mislead the public & cover up the agency’s failure, but it also diverts blame from the terrorist. This is a clear cooperation" with al-Shabab.
'Provide more information'
Analyst Abdirashid Khalif Hashi said the government should not simply tweet out such an allegation without providing more information.
"NISA will have to give detailed information," he said. "This is a big news, the national leaders the president, the prime minister, the minister of national security; the parliament should hold a press conference and speak if other countries were behind this."
General Zakia Hussein, the deputy commander of police, told Voice of America Somali that the death toll stands at 80, but officials expect the final toll will be higher. On Dec. 29, a committee tasked with the support and recovery of the victims reported 22 people are still missing; 178 others were injured in the attack at the busy Ex-Control junction.
A woman who was among 16 victims airlifted to Turkey for medical treatment on Dec. 29 died shortly after arriving in Ankara, according to Hussein. On Dec. 30, Qatar also sent a military plane to evacuate 22 badly wounded victims to Doha.
Somali leaders applauded the two countries for sending medical equipment and airlifting those who could not be treated in the country.
US conducts airstrikes
Meanwhile, the United States conducted three new airstrikes in Somalia in apparent response to the bombing in Mogadishu. Two of the strikes killed two militants and destroyed two vehicles in Kunyo Barrow town. The third strike killed two militants in Aliyow Barrow village. Both locations are in Lower Shabelle region.
Security sources told VOA Somali that the individuals targeted were senior al-Shabab figures. This brings the number of airstrikes in Somalia this year to 63.