Mogadishu. Seventeen people were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a car bomb exploded in Mogadishu on Monday, the latest deadly attack on Somalia's capital claimed by Al-Shabaab militants.
The blast, near a security checkpoint on the main road to the international airport, reverberated throughout the city and sent massive plumes of black smoke into the air.
Witnesses described scenes of carnage as a car veered out of traffic and detonated outside the main gate of a hotel with tremendous force.
"I could see several people lying (on the ground), some of them dead in a pool of blood," said Abdikarim Mohamed, a witness to the attack. "The blast was huge. It did damage to several nearby buildings."
Suado Ali was walking out of a travel agency when she "was forced to the ground by the shockwave".
"I saw nearly ten people lying on the ground, some motionless and others screaming for help", she told AFP.
Medina Hospital, the main trauma facility in the Somali capital, was inundated by the dead and wounded.
"The bodies of 17 people killed in the blast were taken to the hospital mortuary while 28 others were admitted for various wounds," said Mohamed Yusuf, the hospital's director.
Another witness, Abdullahi Ahmed, said at least two government security personnel manning one of the checkpoints on the road were killed in the blast.
Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group waging a deadly insurgency in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
"The martyrdom operation was carried out using a vehicle loaded with explosives which targeted a checkpoint along the airport road," the group said in a brief statement.
The attack comes just over a week after 26 people were killed and 56 injured in a 12-hour attack by Al-Shabaab jihadists on a popular hotel in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo.
In that attack, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into the Medina hotel before several heavily armed gunmen forced their way inside, shooting as they went.
The attacks are the latest in a long line of bombing and assaults claimed by Al-Shabaab, which has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government.
The militant group emerged from the Islamic Courts Union that once controlled central and southern Somalia and is variously estimated to number between 5,000 and 9,000 men.
In 2010, Al-Shabaab declared their allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
In 2011, they fled positions they once held in the capital Mogadishu, and have since lost many strongholds.
But they retain control of large rural swathes of the country and continue to wage a guerrilla war against the authorities.