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The Latest: Death toll from Somalia blast rises to 276

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The Latest on explosion in Somalia’s capital (all times local):

12:45 a.m.

Somalia’s information minister Abdirahman Osman says the death toll from Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu has risen to 276, with about 300 people injured.

It is the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history. The toll is expected to rise.

Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not yet commented.

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12:40 a.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is “sickened” by the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history.

Guterres in a tweet Sunday night urged “unity in the face of terrorism.”

Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu killed at least 231 people. Another 275 are hurt. Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not yet commented.

Officials fear the death toll will rise.

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10:05 p.m.

The United States is condemning “in the strongest terms” the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history.

The State Department statement expresses condolences to victims and wishes a quick recovery for the injured.

Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu killed at least 231 people. Another 275 are hurt.

The U.S. calls the attack “senseless and cowardly” and says it will stand with Somalia in its fight against extremism.

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6:35 p.m.

Qatar says its embassy was “severely damaged” in the deadly truck bombing in Somalia’s capital.

A foreign ministry statement Sunday says the embassy’s charge d’affaires was “slightly injured in the explosion but he is now in a good health, and the rest of staff are fine.”

Saturday’s blast killed at least 231 people. It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

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5:50 p.m.

The United Nations special envoy to Somalia calls the deadly truck bombing in the capital “revolting” and says an unprecedented number of civilians have been killed.

A statement from Michael Keating says: “I am shocked and appalled by the number of lives that were lost in the bombings and the scale of destruction they caused.” Saturday’s blast struck a densely populated neighborhood of Mogadishu.

The death toll has risen to 231. It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

Keating says the U.N. and African Union are supporting the Somali government’s response with “logistical support, medical supplies and expertise.”

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5:45 p.m.

The U.S. Africa Command says U.S. forces have not been asked to provide aid following Saturday’s deadly attack in Somalia’s capital.

A U.S. Africa Command spokesman tells The Associated Press that first responders and local enforcement would handle the response and “the U.S. would offer assistance if and when a request was made.”

A Somali senator says the death toll from the massive truck bomb blast in Mogadishu has risen to 231, with 275 people injured.

It is the deadliest ever attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

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5:35 p.m.

Angry protesters have taken to the streets in Somalia’s capital a day after a massive truck bomb killed at least 231 people.

The protesters who gathered at the scene of the blast are chanting against the attack, the deadliest ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

The government has blamed the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group for what it calls a “national disaster.” Al-Shabab has not commented but often targets Mogadishu with bombings.

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5:20 p.m.

A senator says the death toll from a massive truck bomb blast in Somalia’s capital has risen to 231.

Abshir Abdi Ahmed says 275 others were injured. He cites doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu.

Saturday’s blast is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries are yet to be identified.

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3:05 p.m.

Local journalists say one freelance journalist was killed in Saturday’s massive bombing in Somalia’s capital and several were injured.

Voice of America says one of its reporters, Abdulkaidr Mohamed Abdulle, is among the injured.

Police and hospital sources say the death toll from the truck bomb in Mogadishu has risen to 189 in what is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

— Abdi Guled in Mogadishu.

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2:35 p.m.

The death toll from a massive explosion in Somalia’s capital has risen to 189 with over 200 others injured, police and hospital sources say, making it the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.

Doctors are struggling to assist hundreds of horrifically wounded victims, with many burnt beyond recognition.

Somalia’s government has blamed Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu on the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not commented.

— Abdi Guled in Mogadishu.

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1:25 p.m.

The United States is joining the condemnation of Saturday’s massive truck bombing in Somalia’s capital that left scores dead.

A statement by the U.S. mission to Somalia says that “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

The U.S. military this year has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia and often targets Mogadishu.

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1:20 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says four volunteers with the Somali Red Crescent Society are among the dead after a huge truck bombing in Somalia’s capital.

A statement Sunday says “this figure may rise as there are a number of volunteers still missing.”

Security and medical sources say at least 53 people are dead after what Mogadishu residents call the largest explosion they’ve ever witnessed.

Officials have pleaded for blood donations. More than 60 people are injured.

Somalia’s government has blamed the al-Shabab extremist group, which has not commented.

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10:45 a.m.

Security and medical sources say the death toll from Saturday’s truck bomb blast in Somalia’s capital has risen to 53 as hospitals struggle to cope with the high number of casualties. More than 60 others are injured.

Police Capt. Mohamed Hussein says many victims died at hospitals from their wounds.

Somalia’s government has yet to release the exact death toll from an explosion many called the most powerful they had ever witnessed in Mogadishu.

Ambulance sirens still echo across the city as bewildered families wander in the rubble of buildings.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims.

The al-Shabab extremist group often targets high-profile areas in the capital with bombings.

Crime

Somalia’s first forensic lab targets rape impunity

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AFP — Garowe – The new freezers at Somalia’s only forensic laboratory can store thousands of DNA samples, although for now there are just five.

The big hope is that they could be the start of a revolution in how the troubled Horn of Africa country tackles its widespread sexual violence – provided some daunting hurdles are overcome.

The first sample arrived at the start of the year taken on a cotton swab from the underwear of a woman, a rape victim from the village of Galdogob.

It was wrapped in paper and driven 250km to the Puntland Forensic Centre in Garowe, capital of semi-autonomous Puntland, slipped into a protective glass tube and placed in one of the three ultra-low temperature fridges.

If DNA ID can be teased from the sample, this would be a crucial step in convicting the woman’s rapist.

No longer would it be a case of he-said-she-said, in which the survivor is less often believed than the accused. Two decades of conflict and turmoil have made Somalia a place where lawlessness and sexual violence are rampant.

“Now, people who have been raped hide because they don’t have evidence,” said Abdifatah Abdikadir Ahmed, who heads the Garowe police investigations department.

But with the lab, he said, “it’s a scientific investigation. There are biological acts you can zero in on.”

Challenges

Not yet, however.

Abdirashid Mohamed Shire, who runs the lab, has a team of four technicians ready but is awaiting the arrival of the final pieces of equipment.

Their work to provide the evidence that might convict or exonerate is yet to begin.

And the pressure is on. The freezers mean the DNA samples can be safely stored for years but Somali law allows a rape suspect to be held for a maximum of 60 days. Shire needs the analysis and identification machines urgently so that, as he put it, “justice will be timely served”.

The laboratory, partly funded by Sweden, was launched last year after the Puntland state government enacted a Sexual Offences Act in 2016, which criminalised sexual offences and imposed tough penalties.

But technology alone will not solve Somalia’s many judicial weaknesses.

The DNA sample from Galdogob, for example, was stored in unclear and unrefrigerated conditions for five days before being sent to the lab, meaning a defence counsel could potentially argue the DNA evidence had been tampered with.

Human rights lawyers worry the new lab might backfire for this reason.

“A lot of thought needs to be given to how the chain of custody can be preserved in these kinds of cases,” said Antonia Mulvey of Legal Action Worldwide, a Kenya-based non-profit organisation.

More fundamental still is the failure of Somalia’s police to take sexual assault cases – and their jobs – seriously.

Corruption is rife, with a legal advisor to Puntland’s justice ministry saying officers “meddle” in cases, undermining them for personal gain.

“My concern is that the corrupted system could not make a sure success of the lab,” the advisor said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. “Investing in the lab is good, but we need to think about the preconditions.”

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which helped pay for the lab is trying to address this by running training programmes for dozens of the Garowe police on sample collection, gender violence investigations and documentation.

But, the legal advisor cautioned that donors can only do so much.

“The issue is more complicated than training police. It relates to the political commitment of the government. UNFPA can train police but who will pay those you train? Are they given power to do the work?”

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Briefing Room

US military says drone strike in Somalia kills 4 extremists

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VOA — A U.S. drone strike has killed several al-Shabab militants in southern Somalia, officials tell VOA.

Local sources said missiles fired Wednesday targeted a rickshaw carrying five al-Shabab militants near Jamaame, in the southern Lower Juba region.

“I can tell you that the airstrike hit a rickshaw and that five militants were killed. It was carried out by U.S. drone, helping our intelligence forces on the ground,” a Somali government official told VOA Somali on the condition of anonymity.

The attack was confirmed by witnesses and local residents, who also asked for anonymity because they feared militant reprisals.

Somali officials said they were investigating the identity of those targeted. Some sources said two of those in the rickshaw were civilians traveling with three militants.

A statement Thursday from the U.S. Africa Command said the strike was carried out by the U.S. military “in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia.” The statement said the strike killed four terrorists and no civilians.

On Tuesday, local residents in the region reported another airstrike that destroyed an al-Shabab training camp in the nearby town of Jilib. That airstrike, also confirmed by U.S. Africa Command, killed three militants.

The U.S. military has carried out dozens of airstrikes against al-Shabab and Islamic State militants in support of Somalia’s federal government.

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Human Rights

Somali children abused in anti-insurgency crackdown, families say

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday al Shabaab Islamists had forcibly recruited thousands of children – some as young as nine – and hundreds have been detained by Somali authorities.

The detentions violate a 2014 agreement by the government to treat child detainees separately and work with the United Nations to rehabilitate them, the HRW report said.

Government ministers for justice and human rights did not respond to requests for comment. The chairman of Somalia’s military courts, Liban Ali Yarow, told Reuters he did not speak to the media.

Clan elder Ugas Mohamed Wali, said his two nephews aged 12 and 13 were arrested on their way to school last year, along with 17 other teenagers. Both boys were jailed for eight years, he said.

“There are many problems in Somalia. Children are seized and arrested if accidentally they are passing near a blast scene,” he said, showing pictures of the two boys on his mobile phone.

“The 17 teenagers were released when they were brought to Mogadishu because they were from rich families. We had no money and so the two kids were taken into the underground cell where they were tortured.”

HRW cited U.N. figures saying Somali security forces arrested 386 children in 2016 during operations targeting al-Shabaab. Many were released after their parents paid bribes or clan elders intervened, but those whose families lacked money or influence were kept.

Authorities have handed over 250 children to the United Nations for rehabilitation since 2015, the report said, but that was often after months of pressure.

“In a justice system that remains heavily reliant on forced confessions, children are not spared,” the report said, adding that children were “threatened and on occasion beaten, at times in ways that amount to torture”.

Fahmo Mantan Warsame told Reuters her 17-year-old son was arrested three years ago and sentenced to 10 years in jail for being a member of al Shabaab and that she had paid a total of $3,700 to various officials to try to free him.

“They ask you money at every door you go to. The one who writes a letter asks for money. The one who claims he will release a child asks for money. Nothing else. And when they have bled you dry, and after they take all money, they switch off their phones,” she said.

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