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Somalia Hopes U.S. Will Step Up After Historically Deadly Bombing

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going back to Africa for a few minutes because a truck bomb in the capital of Somalia has left more than 200 people dead. Even for a city as battered as Mogadishu has been, this is one of the largest attacks in years. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us now from his base in Nairobi, where he's been monitoring this story. Eyder, thanks so much for joining us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: What do we know about what happened?

PERALTA: So officials are telling us that a big truck full of explosives was detonated in the busiest intersection in Mogadishu. The truck exploded right in front of a popular hotel not far from the country's foreign ministry building. And the images coming out of Mogadishu are just heartbreaking. Buildings are completely collapsed. Bodies are strewn on the roads and sidewalks. One video shared by the city's ambulance service shows what looks like an entire city block on fire. Somalia's president, Mohamed Farmajo, gave a sober speech very late last night, and he called on residents to donate blood and to pray. Let's listen a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT MOHAMED FARMAJO: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: And here is a direct quote from him. He says, "today's horrific attack proves our enemy will stop at nothing. Let's unite against terror." And this is not over. The government hasn't released any official death toll because they say they're still recovering bodies. They're afraid many more people are trapped underneath the rubble. And they're trying to get dogs so they can sniff out the bodies.

MARTIN: Who is the enemy to which he is referring? Has there been any claim of responsibility, or is there any indication about who did this?

PERALTA: I mean, it has all the hallmarks of al-Shabab, and that's the Islamist group that has wanted to topple Somalia's central government for years. And the group is usually very quick to claim responsibility, and they haven't done that this time around. You know, the government, however, is blaming al-Shabab. I spoke to Somalia's minister for information, Abdirahman Yariisow (ph), and he says this is a direct response to President Farmajo's renewed offensive against the group. He says the government is winning the war against al-Shabab. And the intent of this attack is clear. Al-Shabab is lashing out and just trying to cause as much harm as possible because they feel cornered.

It's worth noting that the government of Somalia has also asked the United States to step up its role in Somalia. And over the past few months, we've seen exactly that. The U.S. has been ordering strikes against the leadership of al-Shabab at a much faster clip. But it's also worth noting that this is one of the deadliest attacks that al-Shabab has managed to pull off if this is indeed al-Shabab.

MARTIN: But that does invite the question then if the government's offensive is working.

PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of hopes that when Farmajo came into office earlier this year, he would reach some kind of peace deal with al-Shabab. by negotiating. Al-Shabab rebuffed that pretty quickly. They said that Farmajo was a puppet for the West. And Farmajo abandoned a process for a negotiated peace, and he announced a strong military approach. But the one thing the federal government of Somalia is expected to do is to keep Mogadishu, the capital, safe. And to some extent, the government has been doing that. But an attack this big brings up questions about just how well they're doing it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.