Galkayo:-At least 20 people have been killed, including a controversial religious scholar, after a car bomb exploded followed by heavy gunfire in central Somalia, police and the armed group al-Shabab said.
Gunmen stormed inside the religious centre of Sheikh Abdiweli Ali Elmi Yare in the north-central city of Galkayo in Mudug region, attacking the Sufi leader and his followers.
“The militants killed 10 people including the cleric, teenagers and women who lived inside the camp,” Abdirahman Abdullahi, a police officer, told Reuters news agency by phone.
“Fighting between security forces and al-Shabab still goes in the centre, the toll may rise,” he added.
Al-Shabab, a Somalia-based armed group, which has been fighting to topple the Somali government, had earlier told Reuters they were responsible for the attack.
“A car bomb rammed into the centre of the man who insulted the prophet. Our militants are now inside and fighting goes on,” al-Shabab spokesperson Abdiasis Abu Musab said.
Residents of Galkayo, where the centre is located, and a regional official said Abdiweli may have been targeted because his centre hosts mostly youths who play music and dance.
Al-Shabab said last year the scholar had referred to himself as the Prophet, an accusation denied at the time by Abdiweli.
“We cannot know the figure of casualties right now. Al-Shabab had threatened him many times,” Abdirashid Hashi, the governor of Mudug region, told Reuters.
Al-Shabab, which has launched several attacks in Somalia and neighbouring countries, wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law in the Horn of Africa country.
The group used to control most parts of the country, but since 2010, the fighters have been removed from most major towns and cities.
The group controls small sections of Mudug region, but it does not include Galkayo.