At least 19 Ethiopians were killed in consecutive blasts that rocked the port city of Bossasso in northeastern Somalia late Tuesday. Reports from semi-autonomous Puntland, a region that declared its independence in 1998, indicate that many of the victims died immediately. Eyewitnesses said the blast destroyed shacks where Ethiopian refugees were living and ignited a blaze and a cloud of smoke that could be seen for miles.
VOA’s Somalia service reporter, Abdelkadir Nunno, describes the blasts. “We saw a hot blaze from a distance,” Nunno said. “When we arrived at the blast scene we saw dead bodies and wounded people waiting to be transported to a hospital.”
“It was a horrific scene last night when the explosions occurred,” he said. “When I arrived at the hospital, it was really crowded. People wanted to know who were the victims of the explosion. I saw many people crying for the victims and for the people who lost their lives.”
The Ethiopian refugees were waiting to be shipped across the Gulf of Aden to enter Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries in pursuit of better economic opportunities. They usually make this dangerous voyage in small boats. There are reports that thousands die before reaching shore, victims of bad weather or mechanical problems on boats not suited for safe travel across the Gulf of Aden.
One of the survivors of the blast was Abdulrahman Kedir Ahmed, an Ethiopian who arrived from Arsi in Oromiya zone four weeks ago. ” Abdulrahman sustained minor injuries. He left his hometown with his childhood friend looking for work. “We were told the grass was greener across the Red Sea,” Abdulrahman said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We were waiting to be transported across the sea. The weather over the past for weeks had been bad, so none of the trafficker boats left shore.”
Abdulrahman crawled to safety before the second blast went off. However, many of his neighbors in the shanty town died on the spot. More than 100 were severely wounded.
No group has taken responsibility for the attacks, but local officials said they are doing their best to bring perpetrators to justice. Police have not made any arrests in connection with the attacks but have stepped up security in the relatively calm region of the greater Somalia.
Puntland’s minister of information, Abdulrahman Mohamed Banga, told VOA that his government believes forces that do not want to see peace in Puntland are behind the attacks. The minster refrained from naming any suspects but Puntland’s vice-president told VOA Somalia service that the Al-Shabab militia, who are regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization, may be responsible.
Mohammed, an Ethiopian who chose not to use his last name for security concerns says, the incident was not a random act of violence. “Nobody picked up a fight with anyone,” he said speaking on the phone from a hospital bed. He has lost one leg during the explosion. “We were just sipping tea watching Ethiopian TV when the first explosion occurred. I do not remember what happened after that. I think a second blast went off and I found myself in a hospital.”
Mohammed said victims of the attack need urgent medical attention and the hospital in Bossasso was not able to provide them with enough care. “The are people waiting in line to see a doctor a day after the explosion,” he said. “We need urgent help.”