Nine people, including senior regional officials, were killed in double car bombings claimed by the Islamic group al-Shabaab in central Somalia on Monday.
Mohamed Moalim Ali, a local police commander, said: “The preliminary information we have received has confirmed the deaths of nine people, including a state minister and a commissioner.”
He said at least 10 others were injured in the “suicide attacks” when two cars laden with explosives were detonated about five minutes outside the district headquarters in the town of Beledven.
Police said the health minister of Hirschbelle state – where Beledwein is located – and a deputy district commissioner were among the dead.
The attacks follow a push by Somalia’s government to intensify attacks against al-Qaeda-linked militants, with authorities announcing the killing of a top al-Shabaab activist on Monday.
Abdullahi Yare, who had a $3.0 million bounty on his head, was killed in a joint airstrike by Somali forces and international security partners in southern Somalia on October 1, the information ministry said in a statement.
“This leader … was the group’s main preacher and Shabab was one of the group’s most notorious members,” the statement said.
According to the ministry, Yare, the co-founder of al-Shabaab, was believed to be the next in line to take over the leadership of the movement from its ailing chief Ahmed Diriyah.
Somalia’s recently elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed has vowed an all-out war against jihadists after several deadly attacks, including a 30-hour hotel siege in the capital Mogadishu, that killed 21 people.
The capital of the Hiran region, Beledwayne is located approximately 300 kilometers (200 mi) north of Mogadishu.
Mohamed last month urged citizens to stay away from areas controlled by al-Shabaab as government forces backed by local clan militias launched an offensive in Hiran.
Witnesses to Monday’s double bombings said there was a small explosion followed by another massive explosion.
Mohamed Addo, a witness to the attack, said “the explosion was huge, and it destroyed most of the buildings”.
“I saw that many people were taken to the hospital and some dead bodies… some could not be identified.”
Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the bombings, has waged a bloody insurgency against the Mogadishu government for 15 years and remains a powerful force despite the African Union’s campaign against the group.
Its fighters were driven out of the capital in 2011, but attacks on military, government and civilian targets continue.
The group claimed responsibility for a bombing last week that killed a top Somali police officer near the al-Shabaab-controlled village of Bursa, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Mogadishu.