MOGADISHU: Somalia's al Qaeda-linked rebels struck at the heart of the capital on Tuesday, killing more than 70 people with a truck bomb in the group's most deadly attack in the country since launching an insurgency in 2007.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed denounced the blast, which caused the most casualties among young students waiting for exam results at the education ministry, as a "cruel and inhumane act of violence". Another 150 people were wounded.
The African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) said a truck laden with drums of fuel rammed a checkpoint outside a compound housing government ministries in the K4 (Kilometre 4) area of Mogadishu, where students had gathered to register for scholarships offered by Turkey.
Hundreds of parents stood weeping outside the Madina Hospital in Mogadishu after being denied access for security reasons and nurses said they were overwhelmed.
The al Shabaab insurgents who carried out the attack later warned Somalis to stay away from government buildings and military bases. "More serious blasts are coming," spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters.
The twisted axle from the exploded truck lay on blackened soil. A body draped with a red shawl lay nearby. People used corrugated iron, rugs and white sheeting to carry corpses away from the devastation at a normally bustling junction.
Ambulances rushed to and fro past twisted, charred trees and a burnt out car.
"I was among the first people to arrive here moments after the explosion. I looked around and reassured those who were still alive," said witness Halma Abdi.
Britain condemned the attack and France reasserted its support for the country's UN-backed transitional government.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he was appalled by the vicious attack.
"It is very difficult to prevent these types of terrorist attacks which we have consistently warned are likely to be on the increase," the UN special envoy to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said.
The government said no senior officials were hurt in the attack on the ministry buildings.