KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
There have been more than a hundred funerals so far in Mogadishu as the Somali capital tries to come to terms with one of the deadliest attacks there in its history. Over the weekend, a truck full of explosives blew up and killed more than 300 people. NPR's Eyder Peralta is following the story and joins us now from his home base in Nairobi. Hey there, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So what exactly happened?
PERALTA: So we know the broad outline. The government says a truck drove into Mogadishu and detonated in the middle of the city's busiest intersection. I've spoken to a few people in Mogadishu. And this was so intense. They're still trying to understand it. I spoke to Dr. Abdulkadir Abdirahman Haji Adem, and he's the founder of Aamin Ambulance, the city's only free ambulance service. And he says he was the first responder there, and the scene just took his breath away. He says this happened at the busiest time of day. There was a traffic jam. And at this intersection, there are lots of hotels. And not far is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Haji Adem says that when he got out, he saw collapsed buildings and just body parts everywhere. He says he saw people dying and crying. Let's listen to a bit of him.
ABDULKADIR ABDIRAHMAN HAJI ADEM: It was, you know, kind of traumatizing, you know, like mentally and physically and morally.
PERALTA: He says, you know, it was kind of traumatizing mentally and physically and morally. Dr. Haji Adem has been doing this for 10 years in Mogadishu, and he says he's just never seen anything like this.
MCEVERS: And that's saying a lot, right? I mean, this is a place where there are bombings fairly frequently, yeah?
PERALTA: Yeah, but the scale of this is truly unimaginable, you know? This happened on Saturday, and the government says they're still pulling out bodies from the wreckage. In the past day or so, there's been more than a hundred funerals. And we're also learning a little bit about the victims. A school bus carrying 15 children was stuck in traffic, and none of them survived. Local media spoke to one man who had flown from London to see his daughter graduate, and now he's burying her instead.
MCEVERS: Do we know yet who's responsible for it?
PERALTA: You know, the first place you look when something like this happens in Mogadishu is al-Shabab. That's the Islamist group that has been trying to topple Somalia's central government for years. The attack fits the way they operate. They often detonate IEDs in Mogadishu. But al-Shabab has also always been quick to claim responsibility for their attacks, and they just haven't done so this time around. They've remained silent. The government, however, is blaming them.
I spoke to the information minister last night, and he told me the government believes this is a direct reaction to Somalia's renewed offensive against the group. He says they feel cornered, so they're trying to cause as much carnage as possible. Al-Shabab is affiliated with al-Qaida, and the information minister says this attack is meant as a message. It's al-Shabab, he says, telling the world and al-Qaida that they are still relevant.
But I also spoke to Mohamed Haji Ingiriis. He's a Somali researcher at Oxford, and he says, yes, we should definitely believe the government. But he also says we should not dismiss al-Shabab's silence. He says there's a lot of groups in Somalia that depend on a war economy, and they want to destabilize the government. So the government needs to investigate this deeply.
MCEVERS: What has been the reaction to this attack from regular people and other officials?
PERALTA: One of the interesting things we've seen is protests. Somalis took to the streets yesterday to condemn the carnage. Analysts I've spoken to say maybe the scale of this will turn Somalis entirely against al-Shabab. They say maybe this can be a turning point for a country that has just been mired in conflict for decades.
MCEVERS: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi, thank you very much.
PERALTA: Thank you, Kelly.
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