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Omar Faruk
Associated Press

Two car bombs exploded Saturday at a busy junction in Somalia's capital near key government offices, leaving "scores of civilian casualties" including children, national police said. The attack came five years after a massive blast at the same location.

The attack in Mogadishu occurred on a day when the president, prime minister and other senior officials were meeting to discuss combating violent extremism, especially by the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabab group that often targets the capital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Al-Shabab rarely claims attacks with large numbers of civilians killed, as in the 2017 blast.

An Associated Press journalist at the scene saw "many" bodies and said they appeared to be civilians traveling on public transport. He said the second blast occurred in front of a busy restaurant during lunchtime. The blasts left crushed tuk-tuks and other vehicles in an area of many restaurants and hotels.

The Aamin ambulance service told the AP they had collected at least 35 wounded. One of the ambulances responding to the attack was destroyed by the second blast, director Abdulkadir Adan added in a tweet.

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"I was 100 meters away when the second blast occurred," witness Abdirazak Hassan said. "I couldn't count the bodies on the ground due to the (number of) fatalities." He said the first blast hit the perimeter wall of the education ministry, where street vendors and money changers were located.

The Somali Journalists Syndicate, citing colleagues and police, said one journalist was killed and two others wounded by the second blast while rushing to the scene of the first.

The attack occurred at Zobe junction, which was the scene of a huge al-Shabab truck bombing in 2017 that killed more than 500 people. Police said the new attack occurred at the exact spot as the 2017 one.

Somalia's government has been engaged in a high-profile new offensive against the extremist group that the United States has described as one of al-Qaida's deadliest organizations. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has described it as "total war" against the extremists, who control large parts of central and southern Somalia and have been the target of scores of U.S. airstrikes in recent years.

The extremists have responded by killing prominent clan leaders in an apparent effort to dissuade support for that government offensive.

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