At 3.20 on the afternoon of Saturday 14 October, al-Shabaab detonated a massive truck bomb at a busy junction on the road into Mogadishu, known as KM5. The truck, which had been driven in from the outskirts of the city that day, was packed with 400kg of mixed explosives, including military-grade but also the homemade-from-fertiliser type. The truck had been spotted by security forces at a checkpoint but had crashed through the barrier and sped along the road to KM5.
The area is always busy, jammed with hotels and shops, but at that time it was genuinely bustling; school had finished and it was just before afternoon prayers. The truck bomb went off beside a fuel tanker and the resultant carnage flattened the area for hundreds of metres around. But you wouldn’t know it now, as the reconstruction effort has moved apace to erase signs of the atrocity.
In the attack, 358 men, women and children died and hundreds were injured. An estimated 56 are missing and we will probably never know the exact figures, as some bodies completely disintegrated.
About an hour later a car bomb went off in another part of the city. The driver had already been detained by the Somali security forces when that device detonated but he quickly confirmed what everyone knew in their hearts: this was the work of al-Shabaab, and he had been due to rendezvous with the truck bomb elsewhere in Mogadishu, where he would have used the car explosion to blast a way through for the bigger truck attack.
Al-Shabaab has been silent, perhaps stunned by their own handiwork. It’s likely that they are worried about how this atrocity will damage them in the few pockets of support they still have in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab’s silence has also allowed the Somali rumour mill to churn. For example, some say the bomber sought revenge for a recent incident in Bariire town in Lower Shabelle – a falsehood adding to another falsehood. In that incident, a group of armed men moving at night to attack a rival clan stumbled upon a Somali Special Forces patrol. There is no proven connection between the incidents.
It suits al-Shabaab’s purposes to drop in poisonous lies here and there to distract from what everyone knows to be true, that they were behind this atrocity. The people – and the media – must restrain themselves and not spread disinformation.
There are other things we should focus on. We have been inspired by the popular response. The president, the prime minister, many ministers and the mayor of Mogadishu donated blood that evening and tweeted a call for others to do the same: so many came that the football stadium had to be used to allow the hospitals to continue to treat the injured.
An online civil society coordination effort called #Gurmad252, as well as the free service Aamin Ambulances, and others, made a major difference. The doctors and nurses in the city’s hospitals are heroes, but the city needs a proper emergency service: not just ambulances but also a blood bank.
The airport has never been busier. Local airlines waived cargo fees to get vital medical supplies into the city and our international partners have flown doctors and medical supplies in and the critically injured out for specialised treatment.
Moral support has been forthcoming too, with the mayors of Paris, Kuala Lumpur and Toronto – cities that also know terrorism all too well – standing beside Mogadishu. It’s common for people to rage on social media that the mainstream media is fickle and west-obsessed: but Mogadishu was on the front pages and the messages of sympathy flooded in.
The President of Somalia declared three days of national mourning. Now these have passed, and we are still treating the injured, burying the dead and trying to identify the missing. The focus of the international media has moved on, as is inevitable. Now Somalia must make a choice.
Somalis are resilient against violent extremism. But this is different. This is not just “another bomb goes off in Mogadishu”.
Even one of the founders of al-Shabaab, Abu Mansur Mukhtar Robow – who rejected the group and is now cooperating with the government – donated blood. He himself split with the group after a similar attack on graduating medical students, sickened by the mendacity of an organisation that claims to defend Somali Muslims, but which slaughters the children of the nation.
There was a small protest that day after the attack – a few hundred people. Many were still mourning and security was tightened for fear of a follow-up attack. The protest on Wednesday was much bigger, into the thousands. The fight must go on, in everything we do, from reporting anything suspicious to the security forces to educating our boys and girls so they are not vulnerable to the violent, alien ideology of al-Shabaab.
In the past the people of Mogadishu have often been reticent about speaking out, afraid of reprisals from al-Shabaab sympathisers hidden in their communities.
It is different this time. It is everyone’s trouble. Everyone in the city has lost someone or knows someone who was injured. We are not asking for more money or more weapons or more advisers or more equipment, even though we will need all of that if we are to rebuild our country. The Somalis need to put aside their many, many differences, and stand as one against al-Shabaab. We are asking for unity.
This is not just another bomb going off in Mogadishu. This is the bomb that will destroy al-Shabaab.
Source: The Guadian