At least 15 people have been killed, including a controversial religious scholar, and 10 others wounded after a car bomb exploded followed by heavy gunfire in central Somalia, police and officials said.
Attackers of the armed group al-Shabab stormed into the religious centre of Sheikh Abdiweli Ali Elmi Yare in the north-central city of Galkayo in Mudug region, attacking the Sufi leader and his followers.
“The attackers used a vehicle loaded with explosives to make their way into the compound before shooting indiscriminately at people inside,” Abdirahman Mohamed, a security officer, told AFP news agency.
“The targeted cleric was killed in the attack together with some of his followers,” Mohamed said.
Captain Nur Mohamed, a police officer, told Reuters news agency that the security operation is now over.
“Three militants who stormed the centre were also shot dead,” he said.
Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda linked armed group based in Somalia, took responsibility for the attack and put the number of dead at 26.
It said some soldiers who responded to the first attack also died as they tried to remove a second car bomb.
“We killed 26 people including the owner of the centre, his followers, his bodyguards and soldiers,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operation spokesperson, said.
“The owner of the centre was the man who abused the prophet,” he added.
Residents of Galkayo, where the centre is located, and a regional official said Abdiweli may have been attacked because his centre hosts mostly youths who play music and dance.
Abdiweli had set up his own breakaway sect in Galkayo, attracting hundreds of followers who would play music and sing songs in praise of Prophet Muhammad, a form of worship abhorred by the armed group.
Al-Shabab said last year the scholar had referred to himself as the prophet, an accusation denied at the time by Abdiweli.
Abdirashid Hashi, the governor of Mudug region, told Reuters that the armed group had threatened Abdiweli on numerous occasions.
Al-Shabab, which has launched several attacks in Somalia and neighbouring countries, is fighting to topple the Somali government and wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law in the Horn of Africa country.
The group used to control most parts of the country, but since 2010, the fighters have been removed from most major towns and cities.
The group controls small sections of Mudug region, but it does not include Galkayo.