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Al-Shabab Truck Bomb Attack Kills at Least 70 in Somalia

October 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to Somalia, where at least 70 people died in a suicide bombing today in Mogadishu.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ : Residents of Mogadishu ran through the blast scene bewildered as small fires burned around them minutes after the attack. The truck bomb rammed a checkpoint near the Education Ministry just as students and parents were crowding in to learn about scholarships. It was the deadliest and first attack by al-Shabaab since August, when the al Qaeda-linked militants withdrew as African Union forces launched an offensive against them.

MAN (through translator): The reason we got rid of al-Shabaab is because they opposed aid for those who are affected by the famine of our country. So now aid can be distributed easily to those who are affected. And we are here to protect famine-stricken families.

RAY SUAREZ: Famine is only the latest agony the East African nation has endured in two decades of anarchy. A weak U.N.-backed government loosely controls part of Mogadishu, but in the north, Somaliland and Puntland both consider themselves autonomous states.

U.N. aid officials now estimate more than 12 million Somalis face starvation, largely due to drought. They warn that some 750,000 could die in the next four months alone.

MAN (through translator): I used to be a farmer, but I lost all my crops. And I used to be a pastoral farmer at times, but I lost all my livestock due to the drought. So I came here because we had no food.

RAY SUAREZ: In Washington today, a spokeswoman at the State Department said bombings will not deter the aid effort.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department spokeswoman: This is designed to strike fear in the hearts of Somalis and also to intimidate the international community. We will obviously continue our relief efforts, but the world needs to know that it is al-Shabaab who bears responsibility for the fact that we cannot get to all the people in need.

RAY SUAREZ: And amid the fighting and famine, piracy continues to plague the sea lanes off the coast of Somalia. Hundreds of merchant ships and pleasure craft have been attacked in recent years.