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More than 230 die in truck bomb blast in Somalia

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At least 40 people were killed and several others injured on Saturday in a deadly bomb explosion near the Safari hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. (Faisal Isse/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
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Hundreds of Somalis marched in the streets of Mogadishu on Sunday to protest a truck bombing that killed more than 230 people in a busy shopping district in the country’s deadliest single bomb attack.

More than 370 were people were reported injured in the attack, when a truck carrying explosives detonated Saturday in a crowded street packed with cars and pedestrians, near government ministries and hotels.

Demonstrators Sunday included many women in flowing gowns, protesting an attack the Somali government blamed on al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked Somali extremist group that has carried out many similar attacks in the past. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The death toll rose sharply Sunday as bodies were recovered, many of them burned in cars and nearby buildings.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said the attack showed Somalia’s enemies cared nothing for human lives.

“Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy would stop [at] nothing to cause our people pain and suffering. Let’s unite against terror,” he posted on Twitter. The president declared three days of mourning and called on citizens to donate blood as hospitals struggled to save critically injured civilians.

After Mohamed visited Medina Hospital Sunday morning to give blood and comfort victims, hundreds more Somalis flocked to hospitals to donate blood.

Relatives of missing people arrived at hospitals Sunday desperate for news of loved ones. Others wandered around the ruins of buildings hit by the blast.

Many of the dead had not been identified, with dozens burned beyond recognition.

Among those killed were four Somali Red Crescent Society volunteers, according to the organization.

The U.S. has stepped up drone attacks on al-Shabab leaders in recent months but the organization has proven resilient, nimble and adaptable. It has lost territory and a string of leaders but still retains the capacity to mount regular attacks in the capital such as Saturday’s blast, often targeting hotels and restaurants, particularly those popular with government officials and journalists.

Shabab emerged in 2006 as an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union and managed to gain control of much of the country, including Mogadishu. In 2011, African Union forces and Somali troops managed to drive Shabab out of the capital, but the group still retains territory, particularly in the south of the country.

A local media organization, Goobjoog News, sent reporters to all of Mogadishu’s main hospitals and reported that 237 people had died and 374 were injured. The report was consistent with information from a former interior minister and lawmaker, Abdirizak Mohamed, who visited two hospitals which reported 231 dead and 207 injured.

With Mogadishu hospitals overwhelmed, the Turkish government sent a plane to take patients to Turkey for medical treatment.

The blast was detonated near the entrance of the Safari Hotel. One of al-Shabab’s common tactics is to attack hotels, blasting through the main entrance with a vehicle bomb and following up with attacks by gunmen going from floor to floor, executing people.

Despite a blast wall, the hotel was shattered into piles of rubble.

The U.S. government condemned the “cowardly” attack.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who perished and wish a speedy recovery to individuals injured in the blasts. The United States lauds the heroic response of the Somali security forces and first responders and Somali citizens who rushed to the aid of their brothers and sisters,” the U.S. mission to Somalia, based in Kenya, said in a statement.

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