WASHINGTON, BELEDWEYNE - At least 20 people were killed and 36 others wounded in the central Somali town of Beledweyne Monday in the explosions of three car bombs, witnesses said.
Two of the explosions took place at around 10:30 a.m. local time, followed by a third car bomb in the afternoon.
Residents told a VOA reporter in Beledweyne that the first two vehicles targeted Lama-Galaay miliary base which also serves as the local government headquarters in the eastern district and hosts the offices of the deputy leader of Hirshabelle state and the governor of the Hiran region.
The third car bomb exploded while headed for the same target where the two explosions took place earlier in the day.
Among those killed in the morning explosions are the deputy governor of Hiran region Abukar Sheikh Madey and the region's health minister Zakariye Mohamed Ahmed.
The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Beledweyne, about 300 kilometers north of Mogadishu, has been the center of a recent local community mobilization against al-Shabab. Local officials including the governor of Hiran region, Ali Jeyte Osman, led community forces who fought alongside Somali government forces, seizing dozens of villages from the militant group.
Senior al-Shabab official killed
Monday's explosions came hours after the Somali government reported that a senior al-Shabab official was killed in an operation in Haramka area in Middle Juba region on October 1.
In a statement, the Ministry of Information said al-Shabab co-founder Abdullahi Nadir was killed in an operation by the national forces in collaboration with international partner forces.
Nadir, also known as Abdullahi Yare, is a senior al-Shabab official who held multiple posts within the group including the media, finance and preaching or "Da'wah" departments. Nadir was a close ally of the late al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane who was killed in a U.S. strike in September 2014, and the current emir Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah.
The United States had offered $3 million for information leading to the capture or death of Nadir, and $6 million for Ubaidah.
The United States military command in Africa (AFRICOM) confirmed in a statement conducting an airstrike near the town of Jilib in Middle Juba region on October 1. Without providing a name, AFRICOM said the airstrike killed an al-Shabab leader.
"The command's initial assessment is that the strike killed an al-Shabaab leader and that no civilians were injured or killed," the AFRICOM statement said.
"U.S. Africa Command will continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as appropriate. Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operations security," the statement added.
Jilib is in the same vicinity where the Somali government reported that Nadir was killed.
Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur hailed the reported killing of Abdullahi Nadir. He hinted that the reported killing of Nadir may have been in retaliation for those killed by al-Shabab.
He said the killing of Nadir is the beginning of attacks in response to the killing of late Mogadishu police chief Brig. Gen. Farhan Mohamoud Adan who was killed Friday by an al-Shabab improvised explosive device, or IED, near Mogadishu, and the killing of Elmi Hagar Gure in an al-Shabab attack near Moqokori in the Hiran region last week. Gure was a traditional elder who participated in the mobilization.
"Accountability is just beginning," Nur posted on his official Facebook account before the explosions in Beledweyne.
Al-Shabab has not confirmed or denied the reported killing of Abdullahi Nadir.
Somalia reported last week that another partner country, Turkey, is providing air support, a development that could boost ongoing military operations against al-Shabab by Somali government and locally mobilized forces.
Interior Minister Ahmed Moallim Fiqi recently told local television that Turkey has "joined" in providing air support to the Somali government. Fiqi did not specify operations or specific dates for Turkish participation in attacks against al-Shabab. The Turkish government has yet to confirm the reports.