WASHINGTON — The newly Turkish-built military base in Mogadishu was the original target of Saturday’s deadly truck bomb, a senior Somali intelligence official told VOA Somali.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says all the intelligence reports received before this attack — and information gathered since the explosion occurred — indicated the Turkish military base was the target.
“This base is the most strategic target for them, it’s going to produce an organized army and they have to preemptively destroy that,” the source said.
The official said the National Intelligence and Security Agency had prior information that al-Shabab was planning to attack the Turkish military base.
Turkish and Somali officials inaugurated the base on Sept. 30. More than 200 Turkish troops will train 1,500 Somali troops with a target of training at least 10,000 Somali soldiers. The chief of staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, General Hulusi Akar, said during the opening ceremony that his government plans to help Somalia until the country gets “militarily stronger.”
Somalia has published a plan to establish a 22,000-strength army before the African Union troops leave the country. AMISOM will start gradual withdrawal by October of next year.
Al-Shabab did not claim the attack but Somali government officials and terrorism experts strongly believe that al-Shabab militants were behind the explosion.
”Whether they claim or not claim makes no difference. We know the act that has happened, it’s al-Shabab,” former intelligence officer Abdi Hassan Hussein told VOA Somali. “The information we are getting so far shows this is the work of al-Shabab. It has their hallmarks.”
The bombing was the deadliest in Somalia’s history killing more than 300 people.
Somali security officials have confirmed to VOA Somali that they have questioned the driver of a Toyota Noah minivan who was arrested on Saturday after trying to walk away from the scene.
According to the source, the driver parked the minivan and got out and made a phone call, possibly to get instructions. The public tipped off security officials who shortly arrived at the scene. While police were waiting for the bomb in the minivan to be dismantled, it exploded. No one was injured. The main deadly bombing and the minivan explosion were connected and believed to both be part of a complex attack, officials said.
Intelligence sources also confirmed that four other al-Shabab suspects were arrested in connection with the bombing including a member of Amniyat, al-Shabab’s security and intelligence branch, who operated in Mogadishu. In addition, Somali intelligence has identified the driver of the truck who carried out the attack and is known to be an al-Shabab member, according to the sources. His name has not yet been released.
The truck that carried out the attack was an old construction site vehicle imported from Italy. It was stopped by security forces manning a main checkpoint at Siinka Dheer outside Mogadishu. The driver called out to a man known to the soldiers who allowed the truck and driver to proceed, the sources say.
It was then stopped at a second checkpoint inside Mogadishu near the former U.S. embassy. The security team there asked if the driver knew anyone who would be able to identify him and allow him to pass through the checkpoint. He did not.
“One of the soldiers made a radio call listened (to) by multiple officers and reported that they have a truck and they suspect it could be al-Shabab. He asked for bomb experts to inspect the truck,” said a security official at Mogadishu’s Joint Special Operations Command.
“The driver was ordered to park the truck on the side of the road but the driver panicked, maneuvered and sped past the checkpoint,” he said. “A soldier chased the truck as it collided with a three-wheeled motorcycle and a minibus before detonating in the midst of the busy junction.”
The heaviest bomb al-Shabab detonated in Mogadishu before Monday’s explosion was 250 kilograms. Officials believe this was at least twice that weight.
Former director of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, told VOA that the truck bomb was “prepared” in the vicinity of Afgoye, about 30 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu. The town is controlled by government forces, but al-Shabab controls large farmlands and forests to the east and west of the town.
“This truck came from Lower Shabelle in particular the farmland near Afgoye that is where they prepared it,” Fiqi said.
Abdi Hassan Hussein, the former lead intelligence officer of Puntland region, confirmed that he learned the vehicle came from an al-Shabab controlled areas outside Mogadishu.
“This truck passed through the government checkpoints,” he said.
Hussein said the government needs to pacify the regions neighboring Mogadishu where such massive attacks are organized.
“You cannot defend Mogadishu from the outskirts, you have to conduct operations and stabilize those neighboring regions.”