Somalia's al Shabaab says behind Turkish company attack, four dead

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A car bomb targeting workers of a Turkish company killed four people including one Turkish citizen on Saturday in Somalia, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said.

The company's staff were working on the construction of a road between Mogadishu and Afgoye, northwest of the capital, the ministry statement said.

Abdiasis Abu Musab, military operation spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, said the group was behind the attack.

Somali government officials did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment. The attack occurred outside the capital Mogadishu, according to residents in the area of the blast.

Turkey has been a major source of aid to Somalia following a famine in 2011 as Ankara seeks to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa to counter Gulf rivals like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Last January, Somalia's al Shabaab insurgents took responsibility for a car bombing that wounded at least 15 people in Afgoye, with those injured comprising Turkish contractors as well as Somali nationals.

A group of Turkish engineers was also among those hit in late December 2019 in a blast at a checkpoint in Mogadishu that killed at least 90 people.

In recent years Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has become a close ally of the Somali government. Ankara has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkey. In 2017, Turkey opened its biggest overseas military base in Mogadishu.

However that alliance has inserted Somalia into the centre of a regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Qatar backed by Turkey on the other.

Al Shabaab frequently carries out bombings to try to undermine Somalia's central government, which is backed by the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping troops.

(Reporting by Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Christina Fincher)