A suicide bomber disguised as a policeman has blown himself up inside a police training camp in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, killing at least 18 officers, officials say.
The bomber, with explosives strapped around his waist and torso, infiltrated General Kahiye Police Academy and targeted officers gathering for morning exercises, police spokesman Major Mohamed Hussein said.
“Police were preparing for the 74th anniversary of police day,” Muktar Hussein Afrah, Somalia’s deputy police commander, told reporters at the scene.
“As they wanted to start exercise, a suicide bomber came in and blew up himself.
“We lost 18 police officers and 15 others were injured. Police will always continue their work despite death.”
The militant Islamist group Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack and gave a higher death toll.
“We killed 27 police [officers] and injured more,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military operations spokesman, said.
Al Shabaab carries out frequent bombings in Mogadishu and other towns.
The group, which is allied to Al Qaeda, is waging an insurgency against the UN-backed Government and its African Union (AU) allies in a bid to topple the weak administration and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam.
The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have since been steadily losing territory to the combined forces of African Union peacekeepers and Somali security forces.
On Tuesday, the US Africa Command said the US military had conducted an air strike on a vehicle they said contained explosives some 65 kilometres south-west of Mogadishu.
Thursday’s attack comes at a time when the African Union is finalising plans to trim its peacekeeping mission called AMISOM.
The 22,000-strong AU force is scheduled to leave by 2020 and some security experts say al Shabaab could find it easier to stage attacks as the peacekeeping forces are reduced because Government forces will find it hard to replicate their work.