At least 13 Somali soldiers killed, 20 wounded in Mogadishu suicide bombing
PHOTO CAPTION: Somali military officers attend a training program offered by the United Arab Emirates in Mogadishu (Reuters)
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded at least 20 more inside a military academy in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Monday, a soldier who saw the bodies said, in an attack claimed by the al Shabaab militant group.
A military campaign launched by government forces and allied militiamen last year has forced the al Qaeda-linked group from large swathes of territory in southern Somalia, but the militants have continued to stage deadly raids.
In recent weeks, with the military campaign against them stalled as the army prepares a second phase of the offensive, al Shabaab fighters have stepped up their attacks.
In late May, they killed at least 54 Ugandan peacekeepers at a base south of Mogadishu. For nearly two weeks, they laid siege to Baidoa, one of the country's largest cities. And they have staged a series of raids in Mogadishu this month.
The bombing on Monday targeted the Jale Siyaad military academy. A soldier at Mogadishu's military hospital who gave his name only as Ahmed said he had the bodies of 13 soldiers who were killed and 20 more who were wounded in the blast.
The victims hailed from the Lower Shabelle region and had come to the capital for training, said Captain Ali Farah, who knew some of them. He said he was aware of 10 deaths so far.
"The soldiers were being counted in the queue when the suicide bomber blew himself up," Farah said.
Al Shabaab said in a statement the bomber had killed 73 soldiers and wounded 124 others. The group typically gives casualty figures that are significantly higher than those provided by the authorities.
Al Shabaab has been fighting since 2006 to topple Somalia's central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Bernadette Baum)