Young Somalis killed had sought rare future abroad
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The devastating blast went off as Abshir Mahdi Abukar approached a notice board to see if he was one of the lucky young Somalis awarded a chance to attend college abroad. Shrapnel broke his leg and decapitated a classmate before his eyes. Another friend caught fire.
"We were just students who were aspiring to have a bright future, but that disappeared when a lot of bright students were consigned to graves," the 20-year-old who wants to study economics at a university said from his hospital bed. "Now I'm worried about my future. I didn't ever think that someone would attack us as students but it happened."
Students already must sometimes dodge firefights on their way to class in Somalia's war-ravaged capital. The scholarships being awarded by the Turkish government are one of the rare paths for young Somalis to earn college degrees. Years of fighting have left few private educational institutions in Somalia functioning.
Tuesday's suicide truck bombing by al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group, killed more than 100 people, among them some of the country's best and brightest in a nation beset by two decades of war and anarchy.
"Al-Shabab wants to destroy our human resources and the social fabric of the Somali people," Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said.
It was not the first time the insurgents have targeted those seeking an education to better themselves and their country. In 2009, a suicide bombing hit a graduation ceremony for medical students. It was only the second class to receive diplomas from the medical school. Before the previous year's graduation, almost two decades had passed since anyone earned a medical degree in Somalia. Among the dead were graduates and government ministers.
The area where the truck detonated on Tuesday was near several government ministries, including the Ministry of Education.
Shamsul Bari, the U.N.'s independent human rights expert in Somalia, sees a pattern.
"These attacks, which targeted some of the country's very few university-level students, as well as the dedicated civil servants working to enhance Somali public institutions and social services under extremely difficult circumstances, are a direct blow to the fabric — and future — of the nation," Bari said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear what the precise target of Tuesday's bombing was. However, an interview the suicide bomber gave that is now airing on a militant-run radio station suggests the young man resented his peers for going abroad to study.
"Now those who live abroad are taken to a college and never think about the hereafter. They never think about the harassed Muslims," said the man, identified by al-Shabab as Bashar Abdullahi Nur. "He wakes up in the morning, goes to college and studies and accepts what the infidels tell him, while infidels are massacring Muslims."
Nur, who had dropped out of school, said he was "very happy with what he was about to do" and that he did not want to dwell much on the outcome of his action. He declared that he wanted to "please God."
"Infidels tend to busy people with secular education, like the English language as we have seen. You will be preoccupied with secular education. You will be then distracted from the religion," he said.
Somalia has been mired in violence since 1991, plunging the country into a chaos that has allowed Islamic extremists and pirates to flourish. The UNHCR estimates that a quarter of Somalia's 7.5 million people are now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees.
The Horn of Africa nation also has been suffering from its worst famine in 60 years: The U.S. says 29,000 children have died since the famine began, and the U.N. says 750,000 more are at risk of starving to death in the next few months.
Al-Shabab fighters have compounded the suffering by preventing aid agencies from helping famine victims in areas under militant control in southern Somalia. They're also vowing to increase their terror attacks "day by day" in an effort to defeat the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government.
And the Islamic militants in Somalia have shown a rising ability to carry out sophisticated large-scale bombings against high-profile targets. Tuesday's attack, for example, occurred in a government-controlled area of the city.
Many of the students wounded in the explosion were airlifted to Turkey. Somalia's hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with such an onslaught of amputations and burns. Abukar, though, was surprised when he was left in a Mogadishu hospital bed.
He never did get to that notice board to search for his name before the suicide bomber detonated his truck.
But he has a glimmer of hope he'll make it to Turkey eventually: Friends who survived later told him he'd been awarded a scholarship.
Associated Press writer Malkhadir M. Muhumed contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.