KULOWALE, Somalia – Gunmen suspected of being linked to Islamic militants opened fire at a gathering of school children and their families in Somalia on Tuesday, killing eight people and wounding 13 others before they fled, police said.
The shooting in the town of Kulowale, near the Mogadishu, Somalia, headquarters of the African Union peacekeeping force in the country, sent anxious parents rushing from the scene. A bomb exploded nearby just hours later, injuring a woman, police said.
The operation began when gunmen arrived at the school grounds accompanied by policemen “claiming they were there to finish off a case,” said Mohamed Sheikh Hussein, the police chief in the town, which is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Mogadishu.
“They shot them (the people) and ran away,” Hussein said.
Many of the injured were badly hurt, some in critical condition, and “the funeral of those who have died are underway,” said Abdullahi Ahmed, director of Kulowale hospital. There was no information yet on the gunman.
The attack prompted many schoolchildren to flee, school officials said.
“We cannot control students’s movements and security is not very strong in the area,” school administrator Abdullahi Nor said.
A nurse at the hospital, Mohamud Ibrahim Ali, said school officials were moving children to safer places.
A police patrol at the scene managed to save 13 children from the killer gunmen, he said.
“The case in Kulowale is the first case where gunmen are targeting the schoolchildren,” said Hussein, the police chief. “We have targeted militants and they are seen to be against the state.”
On Sunday, a truck bomb attack that killed and wounded hundreds of people in Mogadishu killed several people in the town of Kismayo, including at least two school children. That was believed to be the first such suicide bombing in the center of the war-torn country.
A suicide car bomber also exploded at a checkpoint on the road between the town of Elasha and the capital, Mogadishu, on Monday, killing nine and wounding 15, police said.
The United States condemned the recent violence in its most extensive statement yet about the threat to Somalia from Islamic extremists. It also expressed “deep concern” about the Monday suicide car bomb attack in Elasha.
Somalia’s government “will continue to lead the world in the fight against ISIS,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the statement.
While the U.S. supports efforts in Somalia to root out the Islamic extremist group, the Trump administration has been scaling back the U.S. military presence there and has said it won’t try to get involved in the country’s civil war.
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