Nine people are dead after the Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab bombed a United Nations vehicle in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, according to UN officials.
The roadside bomb exploded as a minibus carrying UN personnel made its way toward offices in Puntland's capital city of Garowe, killing at least four UNICEF staff members and seriously injuring another four.
"The IED [improvised explosive device] attack occurred when the staff were traveling from their guest house to the office, normally a three-minute drive," UNICEF said in a statement.
Graphic photos show the minivan with the roof completely torn off and a burned out interior, with lifeless victims sprawled within the vehicle and on the road.
Al Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters that the Somali militant group was "behind the Garowe attack."
Following the attack, UN Special Representative in Somalia Nicholas Kay condemned the violence on Twitter, writing that he was "shocked and appalled by the loss of life."
Al Shabaab's strongholds have typically been located within Central and southern Somalia, near the country's capital of Mogadishu and coastal towns like Kismayo. Recent pressure from the African Union mission in the country against the militants has led the group to expand its violent campaign into other areas like Puntland.
Monday's bombing comes after a violent week in Somalia with gunmen from the militant group storming the education ministry on April 14 in an attack that left 10 dead. Al Shabaab has boosted its campaign in both Somalia and Kenya, where it coordinated an attack earlier this month at Garissa University College that left at least 148 people dead. The group described the slaughter as retaliation against Kenya for its role in the AU joint mission and "unspeakable atrocities against the Muslims of East Africa" committed by Kenyan security forces.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized the Somali government for the displacement of about 21,000 people in Mogadishu in early March. According to the watchdog organization, authorities demolished shelters for thousands of people on March 4 and 5, reportedly beating people in the process. The government is said to have been forcibly evicting people living in an internally displaced person camp in the capital, some of whom have been living in shelters since 2011 as a result of fighting and famine.
"The Somali government has done next to nothing over the last three years to address the miserable and unsafe living conditions for Mogadishu's thousands of displaced people," Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at HRW, said in a statement on Monday. "Now, instead of providing safe alternative options and much-needed water and sanitation, security forces are violently uprooting them, leaving them homeless and destitute."
A sliding graphic published by HRW shows how the government wiped out the camp between February and April of this year. National police, intelligence agency forces, and city council police were reportedly involved in the forcible evictions. The number of displaced Somalis is estimated at 1.1 million people, with 370,000 of them in Mogadishu alone.
Over the last two decades, thousands of Somalis have also fled across the border into Kenya. An estimated 350,000 live in the Dadaab refugee camp, which is considered to be the largest refugee camp in Africa. As the Kenyan government executes a crackdown on home-grown extremism in the wake of the Garissa attacks, officials have ordered the UN to close the camp within the next three months.
Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB