NEWS: Somalia
13 killed in blast in central Somalia.

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.

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