MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Al Shabaab gunmen and a suicide car bomber struck a religious center in central Somalia on Monday, killing a cleric and at least nine of his followers, a police officer said.
“The militants killed 10 people including the cleric, teenagers and women who lived inside the camp,” Police Major Abdirahman Abdullahi told Reuters by phone from the central city of Galkayo.
“Fighting between security forces and al Shabaab still goes in the center, the toll may rise,” he added.
Al Shabaab, an Islamist group fighting to topple the Somali government, told Reuters they were responsible for the attack.
“A car bomb rammed into the center of the man who insulted the prophet. Our militants are now inside and fighting goes on,” Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters.
Residents of Galkayo and a regional official said Abdiweli may have also been targeted because his center hosts mostly youths who play music and dance.
Al Shabaab said last year the cleric had referred to himself as the Prophet, an accusation denied at the time by Abdiweli.
“We cannot know the figure of casualties right now. Al Shabaab had threatened him many times,” Abdirashid Hashi, the governor of Mudug region, told Reuters.
Al Shabaab is fighting to establish its own rule based on its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. The group controls small sections on Mudug region, but it does not include Galkayo.
“Galkayo north has been very peaceful and the question is how armed militants with a suicide car bomb entered the town,” Police Captain Nur Mohamed told Reuters from Galkayo.
Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Darren Schuettler