MOGADISHU / WASHINGTON - A top Somali police official and several of his guards were killed Friday in a roadside bomb blast near the southern town of Balad, according to Somali authorities.
The attack involved a landmine that targeted Mogadishu Police Commissioner Farhan Mohamoud Adan, better known as "Qarole," near the Balad district, 35 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
"The police commissioner stepped out of his bulletproof vehicle as he was visiting a government military post and then a landmine apparently planted there went off, killing the commissioner and an unidentified number of police officers accompanying him," a government official who requested anonymity told VOA Somali. "It's part of the ongoing efforts to eradicate al-Shabab. They will be remembered for their role in Somalia's anti-al-Shabab operations."
Somali police Major Sadiq Aden Ali-Doodishe, who spoke to VOA after the blast, confirmed the incident, but he could not provide further details about the nature of the blast or the number of casualties.
Ali-Doodishe said the attack occurred during security operations targeting the Basra village area on the border of the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.
"The commissioner was in the middle of a successful operation that flushed out terrorists from these areas when he was targeted by a blast," the police major said. "We ask God to have mercy on the martyrs who died, and may God bless those who were injured."
Ali-Doodishe added that such attacks would never deter Somali soldiers in their fight against terrorism. "Terrorism is a threat to life. We will never be diverted from our goal of ensuring the security of the country and the elimination of terrorism," he said.
Authorities blamed the al-Qaida-linked Islamist group al-Shabab for the attack, though no one had yet claimed responsibility.
FILE - Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud speaks during a Reuters interview inside his office at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, May 28, 2022.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the attack in a statement. "Commissioner Aden and [the] other valiant soldiers who have died in the blast dedicated their life for Somalia's peace," he said.
Speaking at a government-sponsored youth conference Friday in Mogadishu, Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre called on Somali youth to unite in the fight against what he called "a ruthless enemy." He was referring to al-Shabab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.
"Somali religious scholars have made their positions [clear] on our fight against al-Shabab. Al-Shabab does not represent Islam nor Muslims. Therefore, there is a responsibility for Somali youth to participate [in] the efforts to eradicate al-Shabab so that the innocent Somalis suffering under al-Shabab's enmity and ruthlessness will be freed," Barre said.
Analysts say government counterterrorism operations were stepped up after the group's brazen cross-border attack into eastern Ethiopia in late July.
On Friday, in Addis Ababa, Mohamud concluded his state visit to Ethiopia, where he held talks with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
FILE - Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is pictured in Jimma, Ethiopia, June 16, 2021.
It was Mohamud's first visit to neighboring Ethiopia since he was elected in May. The top priority of his agenda was regional support in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.
In a joint communique, Mohamud and Ahmed agreed to strengthen ties, reiterating their intention to fight against a common enemy. They also applauded the Somali National Army's gains in anti-al-Shabab operations, and they called on the U.N. Security Council to consider Somalia's request to lift the arms embargo.
Middle, Lower Shabelle
The killing of Mogadishu's police chief followed a government operation Friday that removed militants from multiple villages along the border between the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.
Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur told the Somali National News Agency that troops also had razed several al-Shabab barracks in nine villages.
"These gains are achieved following well-coordinated operations in the early hours of this Friday," Nur said.
In the Hiran region of central Somalia, a counterterrorism military campaign backing a pro-government local clan militia has been making significant gains, Somali National Army officials said Thursday. They said they had secured control of at least 50 villages and al-Shabab strongholds.
The anti-al-Shabab campaign follows the Somali president's call for all Somalis to fight against al-Shabab.
Falastin Iman contributed to this report from Mogadishu.