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At least 76 people are reported to have been killed by a car bomb during morning rush hour in Somalia’s capital.

The blast took place at a checkpoint at a busy intersection in Mogadishu.

Dr Mohamed Yusuf, director of Madina hospital, told the AP news agency they had received 73 bodies. The death toll is expected to rise.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bomb but al-Shabab militants have often carried out attacks there.

Al-Shabab – a group of Islamist militants, allied to Al-Qaeda – has waged an insurgency for more than 10 years. It was forced out of the capital in 2011 but still controls areas of the country.

Witnesses described carnage at the scene.

“All I could see was scattered dead bodies … amid the blast and some of them burned beyond recognition,” said Sakariye Abdukadir, who was close to the blast.

One Somali MP, Mohamed Abdirizak, put the death toll at more than 90, although the information he said he had received has not been independently confirmed.

“May Allah have mercy on the victims of this barbaric attack,” the former internal security minister added.

Many of the dead are reportedly university students.

This attack is another stark reminder of how difficult it is to protect a city as large as Mogadishu against a determined militant group – al-Shabab – which has no qualms about attacking overtly civilian targets. It will also underline and fuel longstanding concerns that al-Shabab has infiltrated elements within the Somali state and its security forces, enabling it to keep conducting this kind of operation in the capital.

Despite losing territory to African Union (AU) and Somali government forces in recent years, al-Shabab has proved to be a remarkably resilient organisation. It has been able to exploit the fragility of Somalia’s fledgling government institutions and the centrifugal regional and clan interests, which continue to undermine the country’s security and unity.

Today’s bloodshed carries with it an ominous warning for the year ahead, which is due to see Somalia hold crucial, but potentially destabilising, one-person one-vote elections for the first time in decades. In addition, there is enduring concern about the fate of Amisom – the 20,000-strong AU army that plays such a central role in the country’s security, and which is in theory scheduled to begin winding down, to be replaced by Somalia’s new national army.

Three witnesses told Reuters the blast had taken place next to a small group of Turkish engineers who were constructing a road.

Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad tweeted that two of the Turkish engineers died.

Many of the dead were “students with ambition, and hardworking men and women”, he wrote.

Turkey has been a major donor to Somalia since a famine in 2011.

Five people were killed earlier this month when al-Shabab attacked a Mogadishu hotel popular with politicians, diplomats and military officers.

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