Police said a truck bomb exploded outside the Safari Hotel at the K5 intersection, which is lined with government offices, restaurants and kiosks, flattening buildings and setting vehicles on fire. A separate blast struck the Medina district two hours later.
Abshir Abdi Ahmed said the toll comes from doctors at hospitals he has visited in Mogadishu. Many of the bodies in hospital mortuaries have not yet been identified, he said.
It is the single deadliest attack ever in the Horn of Africa nation.
Somali Armed Forces evacuate their injured colleague, from the scene
of an explosion in KM4 street in the Hodan district of
Mogadishu, Somalia (Reuters)
Dr Afzal Ashraf, assistant professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, told The Independent the attack was likely a response to recent losses suffered by Islamist groups.
He said groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and Isis were “increasingly on the back foot, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and feel they need to lash out.”
More than 200 were injured in the explosion outside the hotel and hospitals are struggling to cope with the high number of casualties.
Officials feared the death toll would continue to climb. Many died at hospitals from their wounds, Police Captain Mohamed Hussein said.
Vehicles burn at the scene of a massive explosion in front of Safari Hotel in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia (EPA)
The Red Cross said four volunteers with the Somali Red Crescent Society are among the dead and warned “this figure may rise as there are a number of volunteers still missing.”
Overnight, rescue workers with torch lights searched for survivors trapped under the rubble of the largely destroyed Safari Hotel, which is close to Somalia’s foreign ministry. The explosion blew off metal gates and blast walls erected outside the hotel.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning and joined thousands of people who responded to a desperate plea by hospitals to donate blood for the wounded victims. “I am appealing all Somali people to come forward and donate,” he said.
Angry protesters took to the streets in Mogadishu a day after the massive truck bomb attack.
Somalia’s government blamed the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaabextremist group for the attack it called a “national disaster.” However, al-Shabaab, which often targets high-profile areas of the capital with bombings, had yet to claim the attack.
“They don’t care about the lives of Somali people, mothers, fathers and children,” Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said. “They have targeted the most populated area in Mogadishu, killing only civilians.”
Somalia’s information minister, Abdirahman Omar, said the blast was the largest the city had ever seen. “It’s a sad day. This is how merciless and brutal they are, and we have to unite against them,” he said, speaking to the state-run radio station.
The US joined the condemnation, saying “such cowardly attacks reinvigorate the commitment of the United States to assist our Somali and African Union partners to combat the scourge of terrorism.”
America has stepped up drone strikes and other efforts this year against al-Shabaab, which is also fighting the Somali military and the more than 20,000-strong African Union forces in the country.