MOGADISHU – On October 4, 2011, at the height of the famine, Al Shabaab rammed an explosives-laden UD truck into the gate of the former Hargaha iyo Saamaha compound, which at that time housed at least seven TFG ministries. Over one hundred civilians, mostly fresh high school graduates and their parents, were murdered, many more sustained fatal injuries.
In every sense, the gruesome suicide bomb was unprecedented, and in hindsight, a landmark terror attack: the birth of a new, bold trend of indiscriminate violence against civilians.
The October 4 attack was the most powerful explosion and the deadliest terror attack to date. It was also the first time Al Shabaab had used a truck filled with explosives, fuel drums, and assorted metal parts to inflict vast blanket damages.
Footage captured by SNTV moments before the attack shows a crowd of teenagers milling around a notice board. A split second later, we see people scampering to safety, a dense plume of smoke, amidst loud cries.
Other videos on YouTube show the aftermath of one of the bloodiest attacks to hit Mogadishu: charred remains of students who had visited the education ministry to check the results of a scholarship exam to Turkey strewn everywhere, hundreds of injured helpless civilians, burnt cars, and debris from KM4 to Zoobe as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.
The scale of destruction was unseen before. The bomb had decimated the targeted buildings, numerous nearby houses and hotels had also collapsed, killing and injuring more people far away from the scene. Days later, responders were still collecting bodies of victims trapped in the rubble of destruction.
After suffering a series of defeats in August that year, Al Shabaab withdrew from their strongholds in Mogadishu. Boasting about the comeback attack, Al Shabaab spokesperson Ali Mohamud Raage growled, “Where are those who said we had been pushed out? let them know we are here.” He also claimed to have killed 150 spy recruits heading out abroad for training.
The attack, which made global headlines for its cruelty, caused a massive public shock, agony, and outpouring of condemnation.
In 2009, when Al Shabaab killed around 25 medical students at a graduation ceremony in Shaamow Hotel, the group infamously refused to claim credit after seeing massive public outcry. Rift had then reportedly emerged between the group’s leadership over attacks on civilian-populated areas such as schools, hotels, and market areas.
Looking back now on the Hargaha iyo Saamaha attack and Ali Raage’s brazen claim, it’s clear that the hardline extremist faction led by Godane had won, and a new era of darkness was born.
Until that day, Al Shabaab used not to claim any attack that had severely affected civilians. The attack on Hargaha iyo Saamaha changed everything. It sent a clear signal on the insurgent’s shift to a more extreme direction – one where no one is spared. In the ensuing years, a string of indiscriminate violence and major attacks ravaged the country.
To Al Shabaab, no person, no place was sacred. They attacked everyone, everywhere: a twin bomb attack against a mosque killing over 30 worshippers, a massive truck bomb in Zoobe, a busy street market that claimed the lives of over 500 civilians, another truck bomb in the Ex-Control market, bombing a bus carrying football players, on and on.
Each attack seared painful memories of loss and generational trauma into the consciousness of nearly every Somali family. Cases we often hear include this example: On February 28, 2019, after another gruesome attack on Makka Al Mukarama road, a photo circulated on social media showed a young male victim who died in the attack. Reports say that the victim lost his father and sister in the Hargaha iyo Saamaha attack (Oct 2011), his mother was also killed in the Zoobe blast (Oct 2017).
Today, October 4th marks the 10th anniversary of this tragic memory. Unfortunately, in Mogadishu, it has just passed by unnoticed. No remembrance. No prayers. No reflection. No tacsiyo from the PM and President. Both traveled out of the country today for some frivolous visits.
Two internationally recognized administrations, billions on security reforms, and nearly 15 years of AMISOM later, the threat of suicide attacks and violence against civilians remains severe, more widespread, and more deadly. Corruption, incompetence, and unending political rifts had rendered the fight against Al Shabaab toothless.
Somalis battered by over a decade of horrific terror attacks hold on to the hope that someday soon, the attacks that had punctuated their lives will be over, and enduring peace will take hold in its place.