Somalia is reeling from what officials say is the deadliest single attack ever to hit the impoverished and war-battered African country.
The carnage came Saturday, when a massive truck bomb killed over 320 people and wounded 300 more at a busy intersection in the capital, Mogadishu. The blast destroyed nearby hotels, restaurants, and government offices. Just a few hours later, a second explosion rocked the suburb of Medina, setting dozens of vehicles on fire.
The government has accused al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group that has been waging a bloody insurgency in the country for more than a decade, of carrying out the attacks. Al-Shabaab militants have carried out dozens of high-profile attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya in recent years, including the April 2015 massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University in which militants targeted mainly Christian students, killing 148, and the siege of a popular pizza restaurant in Mogadishu just four months ago that left 31 people dead.
The attacks come amid a renewed US fight against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. In March, President Donald Trump designated Somalia a “zone of active hostilities,” giving US military commanders more freedom to carry out offensive airstrikes and ground raids against militants and relaxing some of the restrictions designed to protect civilians.
And in April, the Trump administration announced the deployment of regular US troops to Somalia for the first time since 1994. Although a small number of US military and counterterrorism advisers have been operating in the country for several years, US forces have largely stayed out of Somalia since President Bill Clinton pulled them out in the wake of the disastrous 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident in which militants killed 18 US special forces operators and dragged their bodies through the streets of Mogadishu.
Following Saturday’s attacks, the US Embassy in Somalia released a statement saying, “Such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism to promote stability and prosperity for the Somali people and their regional neighbors.”
The sheer scale of the devastation of Saturday’s attacks is hard to comprehend. Witnesses speaking to the UK’s Guardian newspaper described an area of destruction the size of “two or three football fields” in downtown Mogadishu.
Dozens of people are still missing as emergency workers continue to dig through the rubble looking for bodies. Because of the intensity of the truck bomb blast, rescuers fear many of the dead may never be identified. The government already buried more than 160 bodies on Sunday that were too badly burned to be identified, according to one local doctor who spoke to the Guardian.
The director of the Medina Hospital, Mohamed Yusuf Hassan, told the BBC he was shocked by the scale of the attack. "What happened yesterday was incredible, I have never seen such a thing before, and countless people lost their lives,” he said. “Corpses were burned beyond recognition."
These photos are from the day of the attack and the days following. All pictures were taken by Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images, unless otherwise stated.