MOGADISHU, Aug 15 (Reuters) – A remote-controlled landmine blew up a government vehicle in the Somali capital on Wednesday, killing at least five police officers and wounding three others, witnesses and a police source said.
The blast near a hospital in north Mogadishu — a stronghold of Islamists waging war against the Ethiopian-backed interim government — destroyed an armoured vehicle, known locally as a "technical", as it transported officers on duty.
"The technical was carried high by the blast after it was blown up," said a woman who saw the explosion but who declined to be named, fearing reprisals by insurgents. "I saw five dead policemen."
She added that she saw three others alive but badly wounded.
A police source confirmed the explosion.
"Several policemen have been killed by the landmine blast. The whole area has been cordoned off," the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
"This is definitely a remote-controlled landmine — we think it was planted by the insurgents fighting us," he added, without elaborating.
The government usually blames such attacks on Islamist insurgents, who it says are increasingly using Iraq-style remote-controlled bombs to kill government officials and destroy vehicles and buildings.
Hundreds have been killed by mortar, rocket attacks and fire fights in Mogadishu since Somalia’s government ousted Islamist fighters in December, with help from Ethiopian troops, sparking an insurgency that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
The latest attack on the police officers came a day after heavy fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents in Mogadishu killed at least 31 Somalis and wounded 60, according to a local human rights group.
In separate attack on Wednesday, an unknown assailant lobbed a grenade at soldiers in a town 30 km (20 miles) west of Mogadishu, killing at least two people and wounding 16, a witness said.
"Two grenades were thrown at local council soldiers patrolling the livestock market. One soldier died and a civilian. They wounded 16 civilians," shopkeeper Said Nur told Reuters.
Somalia has been without a functioning government since the collapse of military ruler Siad Barre’s regime in 1991.