Two car bombs killed several people and flattened houses in central Somalia’s Hiraan region on Wednesday, security officials and witnesses said.
“We were awoken this morning by two huge explosions,” Ahmed Nur, a local elder, told Reuters. “We have seen many houses leveled to the ground. At least 10 people died including civilians, soldiers, and Macawisley [militia] fighters.”
There were varying counts by militiamen and local officials.
Farah Abdullahi, a Macawisley spokesman for the local Mahas district, also said the blasts killed at least 10 people. Local security official Abdullahi Adan told AFP nine people had died in the explosions.
Al-Shabab’s media office claimed responsibility in a statement, saying it had targeted “apostate militias and soldiers”.
The al-Qaeda affiliate has been waging a rebellion against Somalia’s government since 2007. It was pushed out of Hiraan last year by government forces and allied clan militias known as Macawisley but has continued to stage attacks.
Mahas District Commissioner Mumin Mohamed Halane told state radio that one bomb targeted his house and the other hit the home of a federal lawmaker.
Al-Shabab has been under pressure since last August when President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud launched a military offensive shortly after taking office.
“The terrorists, after having [been] defeated, resorted to desperately targeting civilians, but this will not stop the will of the people to continue defeating them,” Osman Nur, a police commander in Mahas, told AFP.
“They have killed innocent civilians in the explosions,” he added.
The government says it has killed hundreds of al-Shabab fighters and recaptured dozens of settlements, although different sides often give conflicting accounts of clashes.
Government forces and Macawisley have received support from the United States and African Union troops.
Despite the offensive, al-Shabab remains entrenched in vast swaths of rural central and southern Somalia and carries out frequent attacks, including several in the capital Mogadishu against government installations and hotels.
On October 29, 116 people were killed in the capital in two car bomb explosions at the education ministry, and eight civilians died in a 21-hour hotel siege on November 27.
Al-Shabab’s activities have also restricted deliveries of international aid, compounding the impact of the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in four decades.
As a result of severe food insecurity, several parts of the country are in danger of famine in the coming months, according to the UN and other experts.
More than 8 million people face “an unprecedented level of need” after five consecutive failed rainy seasons coupled with high food prices due to supply disruptions caused by Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.