Somalia Truck Bomb May Have Been 'Revenge Attack' for U.S. Raid That Killed Civilians

The double truck bombing that killed over 300 people in Somalia's capital Mogadishu may have been carried out as a revenge attack after a U.S.-Somali raid killed 10 civilians.

Somali officials told the Guardian that the man who detonated the main truck bomb on Saturday was a former soldier in Somalia's army who had defected to join Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate at war with the country's government.

The driver came from Bariire, a small town around 30 miles west of Mogadishu. Both vehicles used in Saturday's attack set out from the Bariire.

People wear headbands as a sign of anger as they protest after a truck bomb killed more than 300 people, in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 15. MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty

U.S. and Somali forces conducted a joint raid on Bariire in August. The raid resulted in Somali forces killing 10 civilians, including three children, and sparked protests by relatives of the dead and community leaders.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed on August 25 that it had taken a "supporting role" in the operation, which it said was led by the Somali National Army. AFRICOM said that it was investigating allegations of civilian casualties.

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Saturday's attack was the deadliest in Somalia's decade-long battle against Al-Shabab. The group has not actually claimed responsibility for the bombing—experts say it may be concerned about damaging its reputation with civilians due to the high death toll—but it bears the hallmarks of an attack by the insurgents, who regularly launch vehicle-borne suicide bombs in Mogadishu.

Officials said that the main truck bomb detonated before reaching its target, which the Guardian reported was the compound surrounding Mogadishu's international airport. Most foreign embassies are contained in the compound due to security fears, as well as the headquarters of a 22,000-strong African Union force (AMISOM) that has led the fight against Al-Shabab in recent years.

The aftermath of a truck bomb that exploded on October 14 in Mogadishu, Somalia, is pictured on October 15. MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty

The owner of the truck used in the main bombing is from the region surrounding Bariire and has been detained, while officials are also investigating whether people manning checkpoints between Bariire and Mogadishu may have been complicit in the attack.

Washington has been conducting airstrikes against Al-Shabab for a decade and has hundreds of security advisers and troops in the Horn of Africa country. The United States has carried out at least 60 strikes in Somalia, possibly killing more than 500 people, including up to 38 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Somali officials originally claimed that eight Al-Shabab fighters had been killed in the raid on Bariire in August, but later said that soldiers had mistaken local farmers for members of the group.

Following the raid, hundreds of people protested in Afgoye, a town on the main road that leads from Bariire to Mogadishu. Protesters said that God would avenge the deaths of the civilians against the Somali government and its U.S. allies, Voice of America reported.

Bariire has recently changed hands several times between government forces and Al-Shabab. AMISOM and Somali forces captured the town in mid-August, but Al-Shabab retook control of Bariire on Saturday, the same day that the truck bombs detonated in Mogadishu, the New York Times reported.