MOGADISHU, Somalia – Five children who stopped to play with a land mine on the way to Friday prayers died when one of them threw the device against a wall, causing a blast that sent their bodies flying through the air.
The deaths of the children — between the ages of 7 and 12 — were shocking even in this bloodstained capital, which has seen little peace since a radical Islamic movement was ousted in December. Roadside bombs, assassination attempts and gunbattles have become common, and civilians are caught in the crossfire.
The children spotted the land mine buried under some dirt, said Khasaye Nor Abdulkadir, who was hit in the thigh with shrapnel.
"One of them picked up the land mine hidden under the ground and then they gathered," Abdulkadir told The Associated Press. "Another child took it and threw it against a wall and it went off."
Hamdi Kahiye, whose 7-year-old son was killed, wailed when she learned of the boy's death.
"I had dressed him well and sent him to the mosque to attend the Friday prayers," she said, her face wet with tears. "He was caught by the explosion on his way, I am shocked, I am shocked."
A 16-year-old girl's leg was blown off in the blast.
"This is really revolting savagery to plant a mine in a residential area," said the girl's mother, Asha Hassan Abdi, who was tending to her daughter at Medina Hospital.
Saleyman Ali Mohamud, who arrived after he heard the blast, said the scene was horrific.
"You could not recognize the faces of the children," he said, his voice quivering. "Their bodies were scattered in all directions."
Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan are among the world's most mine-affected countries, according to a United Nations study. Mines kill or wound more than 20,000 people each year. Children are particularly susceptible to the mines, which come in an array of shapes and colors and are often mistaken for toys.
The charity Save The Children urged better education to help children recognize mines, which can stay hidden for years and still remain active.
"How is a child going to know what a land mine is if someone hasn't taught them?" said Janice Dolan, the group's education director. But she noted that in chaotic Somalia, few children are in school.
Mohamed Muhyadin Ali, a spokesman for Mogadishu's mayor, said the government was saddened by the children's' deaths.
"We sent an anti-terrorism team to the area to investigate the explosion," he said. "We will continue our efforts to restore order in the city."
Friday's blast was in Mogadishu's Hurwa district, a hotbed of support for the Council of Islamic Courts. The group ruled Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia for six months last year before being pushed out in December. But insurgents linked to the Islamic group have vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war unless the country becomes an Islamic state.
Battles in Mogadishu between March 12 and April 26 alone killed at least 1,670 people.
Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned against one another, defending clan fiefdoms. The government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has struggled to assert any real control.