A suicide car bomb ripped through a police base in Mogadishu Monday, killing nine people after a weekend of bloody fighting between pro-government forces and Al-Qaeda-inspired insurgents.
According to police sources, at least nine people were killed when the explosives-laden vehicle blew up at the Darwish camp, a site used by a police unit and adjacent to a police academy.
One police officer confirmed that at least six policemen were killed when the blast went off, at a time when security personnel in the area generally line up to report for duty.
"At least six police officers were killed. Many others were wounded, the toll could be higher but I don't have more details," said Abdirahman Issa, a senior police official in the Somali capital.
He said a number of civilians in the area were also killed in the explosion and added the area had been completely cordoned off.
A government statement condemning the attack put the death toll at seven.
"Seven people lost their lives in the attack and 35 others were injured... The dead include two children aged 10 and 11 who were at the scene at the time of the incident," the information ministry said.
No group has claimed responsibility yet for the attack, which took place shortly after 8:30 am (0530 GMT), but recent such attacks have all been carried out by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab insurgent group.
"I saw a car speeding through the gate of the camp and in seconds the heavy explosion rocked the area. There was smoke and dust handging in the sky above the entire neighbourhood," said Jamal Abdulkadir, a local resident.
"I had never seen such a strong explosion before. They were mangled human bodies strewn everywhere," he added.
Muhdin Adan, another witness, said a civilian minibus was passing in the area when the explosion went off and explained that several passengers were killed or wounded.
According to Western security sources, the Shebab, who have over the past two years failed to break the transitional federal government's (TFG) last defences in Mogadishu, held a top-level meeting on February 10.
Top Shebab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane "Abu Zubayr" and other commanders of the movement observed that their operations against the TFG and the African Union troops protecting it had achieved limited success in recent months.
They agreed to intensify their attacks in the coming weeks but complained of a shortage of suicide volunteers and said that those who had been used recently had not performed their task to expected results, the sources said.
Some were poorly trained, others balked at the last minute or escaped.
The rare meeting is believed to have been also attended by senior leaders Mukhtar Robow and Fuad Shangole, as well as Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, whose Hezb al-Islam movement merged with the Shebab last year.
The fresh attack on government forces Monday came after a weekend of intense fighting pitting Somali soldiers backed by the African Union mission (AMISOM) against Shebab militants in a nearby neighbourhood.
According to security sources, medics and witnesses, 15 civilians, two AMISOM soldiers and six foreigners who were fighting alongside the Shebab were killed on Saturday and Sunday.
AMISOM said the fighting was triggered by its discovery of a mile-long trench system used by the Shebab.
The force said in a statement the Shebab were "using the trench and tunnel system to infiltrate fighters closer to AMISOM positions without detection. It also acted as a protected logistic resupply and casualty evacuation route."
Both sides claimed to have the upper hand Sunday but AMISOM released the names of six foreign fighters they killed in the fighting and claimed they came from Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya, Syria and India.