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Death toll from Somalia lorry bombing rises above 300

Somalis search for survivors close to destroyed buildings at the scene of Saturday's blast in the capital Mogadishu PICTURE: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP
By Abdi Guled

The death toll from a lorry bombing in Somalia's capital has risen above 300, the director of an ambulance service said on Monday, as the fragile Horn of Africa nation reeled from the deadliest single attack it has ever experienced.

More people died of their wounds in the past few hours, said Dr Abdulkadir Adam of Aamin Ambulance service.

Funerals have begun, and the government said the death toll is expected to rise in what has become one of the world's worst attacks in years.

Saturday's lorry bombing targeted a crowded street in Mogadishu, and about 300 others were injured, many with horrific burns.

Somalia's government is blaming the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, Africa's deadliest Islamic extremist group, which has not commented.

More than 70 critically injured people were airlifted to Turkey for treatment on Monday as international aid began to arrive, officials said.

Nervous relatives stood on the tarmac at the airport, praying for the recovery of their loved ones.

Overwhelmed hospitals in Mogadishu have struggled to assist other badly wounded victims, many burned beyond recognition.

Exhausted doctors struggled to keep their eyes open as the screams from victims or newly bereaved families echoed in the halls.

The attack is one of the deadliest attacks in sub-Saharan Africa, larger than the Garissa University attack in Kenya in 2015, in which 148 died, and the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which about 219 were killed.

In addition to Turkey, Kenya and Ethiopia have offered to send medical aid in response to what Somali's government has called a "national disaster", information minister Abdirahman Osman said.

Al-Shabab, which for more than a decade has waged war in Somalia, often targets high-profile areas of Mogadishu.

Earlier this year, it vowed to step up attacks after both the Trump administration and Somalia's recently elected president announced new military efforts against the group.

The country's Somali-American leader, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood.

Mogadishu, a city long accustomed to deadly bombings by al-Shabab, was stunned by the force of Saturday's blast.

The explosion shattered hopes of recovery in an impoverished country left fragile by decades of conflict, and it again raised doubts over the government's ability to secure the seaside city of more than two million people.

The US has condemned the bombing, 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".

It tweeted a photo of its charge d'affaires in Somalia donating blood.

But the US Africa Command said US forces had not been asked to provide aid.

The US military has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabab, which is also fighting the Somali military and over 20,000 African Union forces in the country.

Saturday's blast occurred two days after the head of the US Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia's president, and two days after the country's defence minister and army chief resigned for undisclosed reasons.

The United Nations special envoy to Somalia called the attack "revolting".

Michael Keating said the UN and African Union were supporting the Somali government's response with "logistical support, medical supplies and expertise".

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