Four people are killed in Mogadishu when a suicide bomber rams a car packed with explosives into a UN convoy.
MOGADISHU - Four people have been killed and nine wounded in Somalia's capital Mogadishu when a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a UN convoy, police and rebels said.
The armoured vehicles were ferrying staff between Mogadishu's heavily-fortified airport and a protected UN base in the city when it was hit close to the airport gate.
Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab rebels, who are fighting to overthrow the country's internationally-backed government, said in a statement that their fighters had "targeted a convoy of foreign mercenaries and their apostate allies."
UN convoys are systematically flanked by pickup trucks carrying private security officers who provide protection for international staff.
"The bomber drove in between the security escort and the UN armoured vehicles and detonated the car, ramming into one of the escort vehicles," police officer Mohamed Liban told AFP.
Liban said he had counted four bodies, all Somali nationals either providing security for the UN or those passing by who had been caught by the blast. Police said nine others were wounded.
The UN mission in Somalia confirmed the attack, saying in a statement that there were "thankfully no injuries to UN staff" but regretting the "casualties amongst bystanders and security personnel."
Somali security forces rush to put out a fire at the site of the blast
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "outraged" by the attack and said there "can be no justification for terrorism or such attacks," according to a statement by his spokesman.
A dark plume of smoke rose high in the sky as fierce flames engulfed the wreckage of vehicles hit by the explosion, which was heard across the seaside capital.
'Smoke all around'
Witnesses said the UN convoy consisted of four armoured vehicles escorted by private security personnel driving in pick-up trucks.
"The explosion was very big and there is smoke all around the area. I can hardly see people lying on the ground, either dead or wounded," said local resident Shamso Idle.
The attack appeared to be a repeat of an al-Shabaab operation in February, when six people -- Somali guards, passers-by and shop owners -- were killed in a suicide attack on a convoy carrying UN staff near the airport.
A number of foreign diplomatic missions are based inside the huge airport complex, which has also been used to house a number of UN staff since a city-centre UN compound was attacked by the al-Shabaab last year.
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops patrol the area following the blast
The airport zone is also the base of the 22,000-strong African Union force fighting the al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab fighters once controlled most of southern and central Somalia, but have been driven out of fixed positions in Mogadishu and most major towns by the AU force.
Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed by a US air strike in September. He has since been replaced by Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah.
The group has carried out a string of high profile attacks in Mogadishu this year, including against the presidency, parliament and intelligence headquarters.
Shootings and car bombings are also a regular occurrence in the city.
The al-Shabaab have also stepped up operations in neighbouring Kenya, and on Tuesday massacred 36 non-Muslim quarry workers in a Kenyan border town.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to "intensify the war on terrorism" against the al-Shabaab following the quarry attack, calling the Islamists "deranged animals" and blaming them for the death of more than 800 Kenyans.
The al-Shabaab in turn warned they would be "uncompromising, relentless and ruthless" in further attacks.
Deadly al-Shabaab suicide attack on UN convoy