A suicide bomb rocked the Somali town of Galkayo on Sunday, killing at least 20 people and showing that Islamist militants, despite recent setbacks, can still plan and execute deadly attacks anywhere in the country.
Galkayo, a midsize town in central Somalia, had been quiet in recent months.
Yet that suddenly changed at 10 a.m. on Sunday when militants detonated a deafening bomb in a market, sending a column of black smoke shooting into the sky. A squad of militants stormed a nearby government building, engaging in gun battles with security forces.
“One of the blasts was so huge, I was really shocked,” said Abdirahman Abdweli, a student in the city.
The explosion ripped the roofs off several buildings, scattering sharp pieces of corrugated metal and debris across the area.
The death toll was not immediately clear. The Shabab militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said 30 people had been killed. Somali health officials and residents said the number was closer to 20, with dozens wounded.
The United States is increasingly watching Somalia, a poor, unstable country that has spewed violence across its borders for more than 20 years. On Aug. 10, American Special Forces assisted Somali troops in killing several members of the Shabab who were running an illegal checkpoint. Somali officials said the Shabab had lost “senior members” in that raid.
In recent years, American airstrikes have killed many Shabab members, including both foot soldiers and top commanders.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to hold talks on Somalia with African officials in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. State Department officials said he would also focus on South Sudan, which has plunged into bloodshed and chaos as well.
Somalia is scheduled to hold an election this year to choose its Parliament and president. But because of the rampant instability and the paucity of functioning government institutions, citizens will not be lining up to vote. Instead, clan elders will select delegates, who will then choose the politicians.
Somali intellectuals have criticized this plan, saying the government is using the process as a way to stay in power and siphon more money from donor nations like the United States.
“The prevailing Somali public view is that the electoral process will not be free, fair and transparent as vehemently claimed,” said Mohamud M. Uluso, a former Somali government official.