At least 16 killed in bomb explosion in Somali capital

Double car bomb attack claimed by Al-Shabaab hit checkpoint outside national theatre and crossroads near presidential palace.

MOGADISHU - At least 16 people were killed and 20 wounded in a car bomb attack claimed by al Qaeda-linked group al Shabaab close to the president's residence in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said on Saturday.

A second explosion followed nearby. Al Shabaab, in comments broadcast on its Radio Andalus, claimed responsibility for both blasts and said the second was also a car bomb.

Among those killed were a journalist, two security personnel and a driver working for local station Universal TV, whose car was passing the checkpoint at which the first blast went off, another reporter working for the station said.

"My colleague Awil Dahir Salad died in the blast together with the driver and two security guards. They were killed by the first blast as they drove. May Allah rest their souls," journalist Abdiasis Ibrahim who works for Universal TV, told Reuters.

Police had earlier said the first car bomb at the checkpoint killed five, mostly soldiers.

A witness at the scene of the second blast said he saw at least two bodies.

Ahmed Abdi, another police officer, said the first car bomb exploded at a checkpoint some 400 metres from the president's residence.

A Shabaab statement said the Islamist group's "martyrdom operation" had targeted "a security checkpoint that used to protect the presidential palace."

Al Shabaab carries out frequent attacks in Mogadishu. Its members want to dislodge the government and impose its rule based on its own strict interpretation of Islam's sharia law.

The group was largely driven out of the capital in 2011 and has lost many of its strongholds. But it retains control of large rural swathes of the country and continues to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities. 

It has killed thousands of Somalis and hundreds of civilians across East Africa in a decade-long insurgency.

The worst carnage to date in Somalia occurred on October 14 last year when 512 people were killed in Hodan, a busy commercial district in the capital.

Nobody claimed responsibility but the authorities believe Shabaab were behind it.