Somalia's capital Mogadishu hit by deadly car bomb

media captionThe BBC's Mohamed Moalimuu: The scene is one of utter destruction"

At least 10 people have been killed and 20 wounded in a suicide car bomb attack in the centre of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, hospital workers have said.

A BBC correspondent says the scene of the blast near the presidential palace is one of devastation, with body parts scattered across a wide area.

Officials said the target was the head of Mogadishu's intelligence services, Khalif Ahmed Ilig, who was injured.

The Islamist militant group al-Shabab has said it carried out the bombing.

Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said the attack was cowardly.

Security had improved in Mogadishu since al-Shabab withdrew from the city in August 2011, following an offensive by African Union (AU) troops.

But this is one of the most deadly attacks in the coastal city since a new UN-backed Somali government was formed last year.

'Completely destroyed'

Witnesses said a car carrying Mr Ilig and other security officials was travelling along Maka al Mukarram road, about 100m (330ft) from the presidential palace compound, when another vehicle filled with explosives drew up alongside.

But just as the bomb was detonated, a minibus drove between them, taking the force of the blast and leaving Mr Ilig with only minor injuries, they added.

"Most of the people who died were on board the minibus - civilians. This public vehicle coincidentally came between the government car and the car bomb when it was hit," senior police officer Abdiqadir Mohamud told the Reuters news agency.

The minibus was completely destroyed, and ambulances rushed the wounded to hospital, the BBC's Mohamed Moalimuu in Mogadishu reports.

Government troops fired a few shots into the air to disperse the large crowd which gathered at the scene, our correspondent adds. Friends and relatives could later be seen searching for their loved ones.

The huge explosion damaged nearby buildings, including a restaurant, but not the heavily-fortified presidential palace and the National Theatre, which is also close by.

Al-Shabab later acknowledged that the bomber had targeted Mr Ilig, whom it accused of co-operating with Western agencies.

African Union and Somali government forces took control of Mogadishu after al-Shabab withdrew.

However, bombings and assassinations have continued in the city.

Pro-government forces have also seized control of most of the urban centres in southern and central Somalia from al-Shabab. The Islamist group still dominates many rural areas.

A new government backed by the UN came to power last September, tasked with ending more than 20 years of conflict in the country.

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