Official, witnesses: explosives likely started Mogadishu market fire

Explosives likely caused a huge fire that gutted a section of Mogadishu’s biggest market, Bakara, on Sunday, an official and witnesses in the Somali capital said.

The explosions, which started just before 5 a.m. local time, claimed the life of at least one person and destroyed several stores that sell electronics and an assortment of goods such as coffee, shoes, and clothes, authorities said.

Frequent fires have destroyed a number of main markets in Somalia, and the cause has largely been electrical faults. But officials in Mogadishu said they suspect that explosives detonated at the stores were the likely cause of the latest fire.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but officials say they suspect al-Shabab militants were behind the attack. Al-Shabab has not yet officially commented on the Bakara market fire. For years, al-Shabab has opposed store and street surveillance systems that can be used to identify members who facilitate attacks.

Al-Shabab regularly carries out assassinations and attacks against government workers, installations, security personnel, and African Union forces who support the Somali government. For nearly 20 years, al-Shabab has been fighting to overthrow the government and establish its own rule in accordance with its version of sharia, or Islamic law.

Businessman Hassan Abdi Ahmed, who was at a mosque in the market for morning prayers, said he heard the sound of four explosions before the fire started.

“I was there in Bakara market; one [explosion] occurred nearby, then we heard another, a third, and a fourth one,” said Ahmed, who chairs the Bakara Market Chamber of Commerce.

“Three were far, they happened further inside the market when the fire started; one was nearby. That is being confirmed by everyone. It’s clear. It’s not a secret.”

Mohamed Ahmed Diriye, the deputy mayor of Mogadishu for security and political affairs, said the government is investigating the cause but pointed out al-Shabab is suspected.

“There are murderers called Khawarij who are against the stability of this country, who, when weakened, try whatever acts they can to disrupt,” Diriye said while speaking to the media at Bakara market.

Khawarij, or deviants, is a term which the Somali government uses to refer to al-Shabab.

Diriye said the person killed approached the explosives, which were left outside a store, mistaking them for trash.

Some traders and store owners anonymously told the media they had been receiving threatening phone calls from people claiming to be al-Shabab militants, who oppose the installation of surveillance cameras at the businesses.

The Somali security branches advised the businesses to install the cameras. Suspected al-Shabab attackers previously targeted streetlights and CCTV cameras fitted to the main roads and junctions.

“They are fighting against the cameras because they don’t want to be seen,” Diriye said.

“It will never stop; we will work on it. We want the people to be alert.”

Last month, at least eight people were killed and 19 others injured after a series of bombings, which targeted a chain of shops that sell electronics at the same market. Authorities blamed al-Shabab.

Harun Maruf

 

 

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