At least 13 people were killed Saturday in central Somalia after a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a restaurant packed with local officials and politicians.
The dead were mostly civilians and 20 others were injured in the town of Beledweyne, said police spokesman Dini Roble Ahmed. The blast caused “huge damage,” he added.
Witnesses said a large explosion ripped through an open area of the Hassan Dhiif restaurant where people gathered under the trees for lunch.
“I saw the dead bodies of several people and I could not count the number of injured people who were rushed to the hospital,” said witness Mahad Osman. “Some of these people were waiting for their ordered meals to arrive while enjoying the cool weather when the explosion occurred.”
Police and government officials confirmed that the restaurant attack was the result of a suicide bomber, but did not give a casualty figure.
The attack took place despite heightened security in Beledweyne on the eve of a first round of voting for parliamentary seats in the district, 340 km (210 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu.
Two deputy district commissioners were among the dead, said police officer Mohamud Hassan. “This is the deadliest attack I can remember in this city.”
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a report by SITE intelligence, which monitors armed groups online.
The group, which frequently attacks government targets and civilians, has launched two attacks in the past two weeks. Al-Shabab, linked to al-Qaida, aims to overthrow the central government.
One of those killed in the Beledweyne attack was a candidate in the ongoing parliamentary elections, residents said.
The parliamentary elections began Nov. 1 and were originally scheduled to end Dec. 24, but are currently scheduled to end Feb. 25.
Under Somalia’s indirect election process, delegates, who include clan elders, choose members of the lower house, which will then select a new president at a date yet to be set.
Recent attacks by al-Shabab could pose more problems for the election, which has been delayed for a year.
The election stalemate has worried Somalia’s international donors, who fear it could divert attention from the battle against al-Shabab, which has been fighting the weak central government for more than a decade.