A roadside bomb ripped through a group of female street cleaners in Mogadishu Sunday, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding dozens, most of then women, witnesses and medical sources told AFP.
The explosion went off in the southern K4 neighbourhood as dozens of women supported by local NGOs gathered to sweep the area, leaving scenes of carnage in the street.
"They were cleaning the street when this huge explosion rocked the entire neighbourhood. I counted 15 bodies, most of them are women who were torn to pieces," eyewitness Hasan Abdi Mohamed said.
Mohamed said the explosion wounded around 40 people.
The blast was one of the deadliest incidents to hit civilians in the restive Somali capital in weeks and local residents rushed to help the wounded.
"The number of casualties is increasing," said Ali Hasan Adan, another witness.
"There are about 15 dead at the moment and a number of wounded that I cannot estimate," he said. "There is blood everywhere, dead and wounded people strewn across the street."
"This is a tragedy, I have never seen such carnage. From what I can see, they are all women who were cleaning the area."
At the city's main Madina hospital, Doctor Dahir Mohamed Mohamoudb told AFP that 47 wounded were admitted, five of whom died of their injuries, bringing the total death toll to 20.
"We received 47 civilians who were injured in the blast and so far five have died in the hospital, three of them women," said Mohamoud, one of the hospital's directors.
"It’s the largest number of civilians we have received from one incident in weeks," he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion but hardline Islamist groups have routinely targeted military convoys in the area with roadside bombs.
Ethiopian troops came to the rescue of Somalia's embattled and internationally-backed transitional government in late 2006, ousting an Islamist militia that had briefly controlled large parts of the country.
Islamist insurgents have since waged a deadly guerrilla war against government targets, Ethiopian forces and African Union peacekeepers.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting, with international rights groups and aid agencies saying that at least 6,000 have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced over the past year alone.
The Horn of Africa nation has been plagued by civil fighting and defied more than a dozen peace initiatives since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre led to chaos.
The United Nations sponsored a new peace initiative which led to the signing on June 9 in Djibouti of a truce agreement between the government and the main Islamist-dominated opposition movement.
But the deal led to a split in the opposition, with hardliners insisting Ethiopian troops should leave before negotiations start.
Violence has continued to rock the capital almost daily and peace efforts suffered another blow Saturday when two thirds of the cabinet threatened to resign over alleged misuse of state resources by Prime Minister Nur Hasan Husein.
The premier said in a press conference that he had not yet received any minister's resignation but the move reflected differences between himself and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.