A car bomb in the Somali capital of Mogadishu has hit a convoy of cars carrying Qatari officials, killing at least eight Somalis.
The visiting delegation of Qataris, who were travelling in the Somali interior minister's bullet-proof vehicle, were safe, a security officer said. The minister was not in the car at the time.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but it bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda-linked rebels who have kept up a campaign of guerrilla-style attacks since the army and peacekeepers pushed them out of bases in the city.
Last week Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president of Somalia, told The Telegraph that although things are getting better in his country, there is a huge amount at stake.
"All our plans are based on moving the country from emergency to recovery, and from recovery to development and reconstruction," he said.
"There is a huge amount at stake in Somalia: the future of this country, the security of the region, the removal of the piracy stranglehold."
The state of Somalia's security forces will top the agenda at a conference in London on Tuesday. Britain and Somalia are hoping to use the event to drum up more international support at a time when al Shabaab are weakened as a fighting force but can still inflict devastating strikes.
The blast on Sunday tore through the busy 'Kilometre 4' road junction in the centre of Mogadishu's commercial and administrative district.
Gunfire rang out immediately after the explosion as the convoy's security guards fired into the air to disperse onlookers.
Qatar has been forging closer political ties with Somalia in recent years as it seeks to expand its influence in the Horn of Africa region.
"The car bomb targeted delegates from Qatar. They are safe," said Hassan Osman, a security official, adding that the minister's car was damaged in the blast.
Sunday's bomb was a stark reminder of two decades of civil strife in a country where the central government depends heavily on a 17,600-strong African Union peacekeeping force for its survival.
While there has been a significant improvement in the coastal capital since African Union peacekeepers drove the Islamist al Shabaab group out of the city in 2011, the attack showed the relative ease with which the militants can still strike.
Some of Mogadishu's major roads were closed last week after security officials received a tip-off about an imminent attack, but were reopened on Saturday.
Civil war after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 left Somalia without effective central government and awash with weapons. The turmoil opened the doors for piracy to flourish in the Gulf of Aden and deeper into the Indian Ocean.
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