Deadly car bomb targets Emirati officials in Somalia

KONFRONTASI-A car bomb targeting a bulletproof vehicle carrying diplomats from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has killed at least 12 people, including four Somali soldiers, in Mogadishu.

Local officials said that the Emiratis were unharmed.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, the armed group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack in Mogadishu.

"We targeted a vehicle carrying the enemies of Somalia," Abdulaziz Abu Muscab said.

Muscab later told the Reuters new agency that the attack targetted UAE nationals. They were military trainers, Hussein Afrah, a Somali military officer, told Reuters, confirming the intended targets were not hurt.

The explosion happened near a defence ministry hospital and heavy gunfire was heard soon afterwards.

Witnesses described chaotic scenes as civilians fled through nearby alleys while soldiers fired in the air to prevent a crowd from gathering. Civilians carried victims to nearby hospitals.

"The explosion was very heavy and it destroyed the pick-up truck," said Hassan Bile, an eyewitness.

Nick Kay, the United Nations envoy to Somalia, condemned the "utterly cruel" attack, saying he had spoken to the UAE ambassador, Mohamed Al Osmani, who was not harmed in the explosion.

Al-Shabab has vowed to step up attacks against the government of Somalia during the month of Ramadan. 

Since the start of Ramadan, there have been at least 10 assassinations in the capital targeting government officials.

Somalia has been wracked by instability since the collapse of Siad Barre's hardline regime in 1991. 

The current government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

The UAE is involved in a number of security, infrastructure, development and humanitarian projects in Somalia.[mr/aje]