MOGADISHU, Somalia, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- A suspected suicide explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia, killed dozens of people, officials said Tuesday.
Witnesses told the BBC a truck carrying explosives drove into a gate near a government building and detonated. A spokesman for the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, which has links to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The New York Times reported Africa Union officials said at least 50 people had died and the toll could go as high as 100.
"We have targeted the attack to 150 young Somalis who were planning to be flown to Sudan to be trained as spies," al-Shabaab said in a statement.
Witnesses told the Times, however, those killed were students hoping for scholarships to Sudan and Turkey.
Al-Shabaab controls large portions of south and central Somalia but had retreated from Mogadishu in recent months, the BBC reported.
In the United States, Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney called the attack by al-Shabaab "despicable and cowardly."
"The United States strongly condemns the outrageous terrorist attack carried out earlier today by al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, Somalia," Carney said. "Those who carried out these attacks have nothing to offer the people of Somalia except murder and destruction, and they must be held accountable."
He went on to say the United States stands with the victims' families and the Somali people. He said the attack underscores the need for the international community to support the Somali transitional government and the African Union Mission in Somalia.