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Deadly Blast Jostles Somalia , President Declares Three Days of National Mourning

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but similar attacks have been carried out by the Islamic extremist group al Shabab

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BLAST
A Somali soldier helps a civilian who was wounded in a blast in the capital of Mogadishu, Somalia. VOA

Somalia, October 15, 2017 : Somalia’s president has declared three days of national mourning following a deadly truck bombing Saturday in the capital, Mogadishu, which left many people dead and dozens injured, including a VOA reporter.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo said the country “will observe three days of mourning for innocent victims and flags will be flown at half-mast.”

Farmaajo also called on citizens to unite against terror, saying it is “time to unite and pray together. Terror won’t win.”

Blast
Somalis gather and search for survivors by destroyed buildings at the scene of a blast in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia. VOA

Earlier Saturday, the blast occurred near Zobe, a busy intersection in Somalia’s capital, killing more than 50 people, health officials and witnesses said.

Dead, injured

Mahad Salad Adan, a Somali lawmaker who sustained a slight wound from the blast, told VOA that more than 100 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the explosion. He said more 200 others were wounded as Mogadishu hospitals struggled to treat the wounded.

Abdulkaidr Mohamed Abdulle, a VOA Somali correspondent in Mogadishu, was among the injured. His wife, Samira Abdirahman Sheikh Adam, confirmed to VOA that he had sustained injuries to his neck, head and right hand.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but similar attacks have been carried out by the Islamic extremist group al Shabab. The group, which is linked to al-Qaida, is trying to overthrow the government in an effort to establish strict Islamic rule.

The United States and the United Nations strongly condemned Saturday’s blast and offered condolence to the lives lost and those wounded in the attack.

Buildings leveled

Buildings around the area were leveled by the explosion from a truck bomb, and dozens of destroyed cars littered the streets.

Blast
Mogadishu on the map. VOA

Health officials said Saturday’s bombing was the largest blast in recent memory in Mogadishu. They also called for residents to donate blood to help with the wounded.

“For 10 years, I have been in the emergency service. … I cannot tell the exact death toll, but together I can say we have transported hundreds of people on our 10 ambulances,” said Dr. Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adem, director of the Amin ambulance service. “And economically, I think this is the worst (bombing) ever in Mogadishu in a single day.”

Government soldiers had cordoned off the area, and officials said the death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers find bodies in the rubble.

ALSO READ Terror Strikes Somalia: Five killed in Twin Car Bomb Blast in Mogadishu

Most of the victims were civilians. The exact target of the blast remains unclear, though there are several hotels frequented by government officials and members of various diaspora communities.

“This is a disaster. We ask all Somalis to reach us, to help us in the search of dead bodies under the debris. We appeal to the doctors, to those who have digging machines,” Mogadishu Mayor Tabid Abdi Mohamed said on government radio.

Al-Shabab

Saturday’s blast came hours after al-Shabab militants regained control of Barire, a strategic Somalian town in a farming area along the Shabelle river, 45 kilometers from Mogadishu.

The explosion also comes two days after Somalia’s defense minister and military chief, who were leading the fight against Islamist militants, both resigned from the government, citing personal reasons.

Some analysts believe militants tend to carry out such attacks when there are security lapses.

“The resignation of the country’s defense and military chiefs gave the militants a gab [opening] to carry out such disastrous attack,” said Mogadishu University’s Dr. Abdul Kadir Liban Isse. (VOA)

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Last Decade Had seen ‘Backlash’ Against Human Rights: UN Official

UN Official Decries Human Rights ‘Backlash’ in Last Decade

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Human rights
Andrew Gilmour, U.N.assistant secretary-general for human rights, visits a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. (VOA)

The past decade has seen a backlash against human rights on every front, especially the rights of women and LGBT communities, according to a top U.N. human rights official.

Andrew Gilmour, the outgoing assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the regression of the past 10 years hasn’t equaled the advances that began in the late 1970s — but it is serious, widespread and regrettable.

He pointed to “populist authoritarian nationalists” in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, who he said are taking aim at the most vulnerable groups of society, including Rohingya Muslims, Roma and Mexican migrants, as well as gays and women. He cited leaders who justify torture, the arrests and killing of journalists, the brutal repressions of demonstrations and “a whole closing of civil society space.”

China Human Rights
A Chinese police officer takes his position by the road near what is officially called a vocational education centre in Yining in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. VOA

“I never thought that we would start hearing the terms `concentration camps’ again,” Gilmour told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. “And yet, in two countries of the world there’s a real question.”

He didn’t name them but appeared to be referring to China’s internment camps in western Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million members of the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority are being held; and detention centers on the United States’ southern border, where mostly Central American migrants are being held while waiting to apply for asylum. Both countries strongly deny that concentration camp-like conditions exist.

Gilmour is leaving the United Nations on December 31 after a 30-year career that has included posts in hot spots such as Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and West Africa. Before taking up his current post in 2016, he served for four years as director of political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and human rights affairs in former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office.

Despite his dim view of the past decade, Gilmour — a Briton who previously worked in politics and journalism — said he didn’t want to appear “relentlessly negative.”

Not a straight line

UN human rights
Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights gestures after a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva. VOA

“The progress of human rights is certainly not a linear progression, and we have seen that,” he said. “There was definite progression from the late ’70s until the early years of this century. And we’ve now seen very much the countertendency of the last few years.”

Gilmour said human rights were worse during the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, “but there wasn’t a pushback as there is now.”

He pointed to the fact that in the past eight years or so, many countries have adopted laws designed to restrict the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations, especially human rights NGOs.

And he alleged that powerful U.N. member states stop human rights officials from speaking in the Security Council, while China and some other members “go to extraordinary lengths to prevent human rights defenders [from] entering the [U.N.] building even, let alone participate in the meetings.”

In March 2018, for example, Russia used a procedural maneuver to block then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein from addressing a formal meeting of the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, Gilmour said.

Zeid was able to deliver his hard-hitting speech soon afterward, but only at a hurriedly organized informal council meeting where he decried “mind-numbing crimes“ committed by all parties in Syria.

Gilmour also cited the United States’ refusal to authorize the council to hold a meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea, a move that effectively killed the idea.

Rights of women, gays

UN Syria Human rights
U.S. United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft address the U.N. Security Council after a failed vote on a humanitarian/human rights draft resolution and for Syria. VOA

The rights of women and gays are also at stake, Gilmour said. He said nationalist authoritarian populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made “derogatory comments” about both groups.

He said the U.S. is “aggressively pushing” back against women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. The result, he said, is that countries fearful of losing U.S. aid are cutting back their work on women’s rights.

Gilmour also pointed out a report issued in September that cited 48 countries for punishing human rights defenders who have cooperated with the U.N.

“I feel that we really need to do more — everybody … to defend those courageous defenders,” he said.

Gilmour said the U.N. should also stand up when it comes to major violations of international law and major violations of human rights, but “I have found it extremely difficult to do so in all circumstances.”

He said he was happy to hear that the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, feels strongly about ensuring human rights.

“And I do hope that she will be gently and firmly held to that high standard,“ he said.

Gilmour said that after his departure from the U.N, he will take a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College, where he will focus on the importance of uniting human rights and environmental rights groups.

“The human rights impact of climate change — it’s going to be so monumental,” he said.

Also Read-UN to Allocate More Funds for War Crimes Inquiries in Syria and Myanmar

As he relinquishes his post, Gilmour said he is counting on younger generations to take up the mantle of human rights and fight for other causes aimed at improving the world.

“What gives me hope as we start a new decade is that there will be a surge in youth activism that will help people to get courage, and to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.  (VOA)