A suicide car bomb exploded near Somalia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, killing at least four people even as Somali and Kenyan leaders met and agreed to cooperate on military action against Islamist insurgents.
The blast rattled central Mogadishu and killed at least three passers-by and the suicide bomber, said police official Ali Hassan. Six people were wounded and taken to the hospital, he said.
The explosion did not damage the ministry building but did tear down a stone wall in front of it. Hundreds of on-lookers gathered to see the demolished car scattered across the road. Several body parts littered the street.
"The car bomb blew up among people and cars passing down the street. I don't know if his target was the civilians, but thanks to Allah the loss was not so big," said Mohamed Nor Siyaed, an eyewitness.
Abdikarim Sheikh Hussein, a university student in Mogadishu, said he was standing on the other side of the street when the explosion happened. Bloodied textbooks were lying on the ground in the post-explosion ruins.
"When the car blew up a ball of flame and smoke engulfed the whole area, then some wounded people ran through the streets" he said.
African Union and Somali troops battling al-Shabab militants have mostly pushed the insurgents out of Mogadishu, but al-Shabab has vowed to carry out attacks in the capital. Earlier this month al-Shabab unleashed a suicide blast that killed more than 100 people, many of them students. It was the deadliest bombing in Somalia by al-Shabab.
The latest attacks have raised fears that al-Shabab is targeting everyone, not just government officials and African Union peacekeepers.
Hassan Jimale said he's now afraid to attend university classes, saying the education centers may again be targeted like the students.
"I am afraid the students themselves will bomb us in the classes," Jimale said. "You can't know who's going to kill you! Women are veiled and men can hide explosive vests under their shirts."
Tuesday's blast came as Kenya's ministers of foreign affairs and defense traveled to Mogadishu to meet with Somalia's president following Kenya's launch of military operations in southern Somalia against al-Shabab militants. The explosion occurred several miles from where those meetings are believed to have taken place.
Al-Shabab on Monday said it would launch terror attacks inside Kenya unless that country pulls back the hundreds of troops who have moved in to southern Somalia in search of al-Shabab. In response, Kenyan police on Tuesday sent out a terrorist attack warning and increased security at some downtown sites, including the Somali neighborhood of Nairobi.
Somalia's government earlier this week said it did not approve of Kenya's push into southern Somalia. But on Tuesday the two sides agreed to coordinate their military operations in pursuit of al-Shabab insurgents after Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula met with President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.
"The recent spate of blatant attacks is indicative of a changed strategy by (al-Shabab) calculated to terrozie civilians," a joint Kenyan-Somalia statement said. "This warrants decisive action to forestall the threats ... restore security in the border areas and ensure that insurgents do not launch attacks against Kenya, the region and beyond."
Kenya said it launched its military action in response to the kidnappings of four Europeans over the last six weeks, though military analysts suspect that Kenya had prepared the invasion before the abductions.
The push by Kenyan ground forces toward a strategic Somali town was slowed on Tuesday by heavy rain, Kenyan military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir said. Kenyan troops and pro-Somali government forces are heading toward the town of Afmadow, a crossroads town just north of the port city of Kismayo, where al-Shabab is entrenched.
Chirchir said Kenyan forces were at the Somali town of Qoqani, about 50 miles from Afmadow. Residents of Afmadow on Monday reported that al-Shabab fighters were leaving as the troops approached.
"Our troops are heading to Afmadow now, and we expect to capture it either today or tomorrow," Abdinasir Serar, a commander with the pro-government Ras Kamboni militia told The Associated Press by phone from Qoqani.
Kenya moved two battalions of about 800 troops each across the border in two locations, a Nairobi-based official said. Tanks, helicopters and artillery have also been deployed. The invasion is the most significant foreign deployment of the Kenyan military since independence from Britain in 1963.
Al-Shabab threatened on Monday to bring down Nairobi skyscrapers and referenced the July 2010 bomb attacks they masterminded in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76 people. Al-Shabab said the attacks were retaliation for Uganda's troops contributions to the African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.
Associated Press reporter Tom Odula contributed from Nairobi, Kenya.