MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A car bomb targeting military instructors from the United Arab Emirates exploded in the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Wednesday, injuring no UAE citizens but killing at least three Somali soldiers, security officials said.
The officials said the UAE ambassador was traveling in the same convoy as the instructors, which was attacked in Mogadishu's Hodan District. He was unhurt. Seven other people were wounded, police said.
The Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack and said it had "inflicted casualties".
Hussein Afrah, a Somali military officer, said the car bomb targeted the UAE trainers, who were in a bullet-proof car. Those killed were Somali soldiers, he said.
"The incident took place near the military hospital where UAE trains Somali military. Three Somali military ... died and several other civilians who were passing by were injured," Afrah told Reuters.
A wounded soldier identified only as Ahmed said the UAE ambassador to Somalia was also in the convoy and was unharmed.
"The UAE ambassador was in a bullet-proof car ahead of us and the car bomb missed its target," he told Reuters.
The ambassador, Mohammed Othman al-Hammadi, said in a statement carried by UAE state news agency WAM that the attack targeted a relief convoy.
"A terrorist car bomb targeted an Emirati relief convoy (which was) in ... Mogadishu for the blessed month of Ramadan, resulting in the death of three Somalis and wounded others," al-Hammadi was quoted saying.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash condemned the attack.
"This terrorist act will not away the United Arab Emirates from its principled commitment to support Somalia and its brotherly people in confronting terrorism," WAM quoted Gargash as saying.
Al Shabaab put the number of those killed at 17, but this was not independently verifiable. In the past, al Shabaab has exaggerated the number of casualties it has inflicted and government officials have played down losses.
Nicholas Kay, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, also confirmed the attack on the convoy but gave no details of who was in it.
"I condemn today’s appalling attack against innocent civilians and dedicated international officials who are providing critical peace-building and state building support to Somalia,” Kay said in a statement.
A Reuters witness saw the ruined car in which the bomb had been detonated, a damaged military pickup and a pool of blood.
The al Qaeda-aligned group has in the past stepped up attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began a week ago.
On Sunday, al Shabaab fighters detonated a car bomb in the capital and shot their way into a national intelligence agency training site.
Four Islamist gunmen were killed, the internal security ministry said, adding that the government did not suffer any casualties during the attack. Al Shabaab said more than 10 intelligence officials were killed.
An African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali army offensive last year pushed al Shabaab out of major strongholds, but the group still controls some rural areas. It launches regular attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, which also has forces with AMISOM.
On Monday and Tuesday, police said the group had killed six soldiers and an elder in separate incidents in the capital, the south central town of Beledweyne and the seaside town of Marka. Al Shabaab put the number killed at nine.
Addtional reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Larry King