MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber killed at least 12 people near a police training camp in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Monday in what police said was an attack by rebels who profess loyalty to al Qaeda.
Al Shabaab has waged a three-year insurgency to topple the U.N.-backed interim government they consider a stooge of the West, restricting it to just a few blocks of Mogadishu.
Police say civilian casualties were high in the early morning strike on a busy main road that was aimed at Seredi, the police training camp about 500 metres (1,650 feet) from Mogadishu port.
"We cannot get the exact number of dead now. We are busy collecting flesh, and people are shocked here," Hassan Ali, a police officer, told Reuters.
There were likely to be more casualties since fragments of the bomb, shrapnel and wrecked car parts were flung across the road and into various buildings and houses, police said.
Two vehicles with passengers headed for the port burst into flames and several residents fled in panic, police said. A donkey and its rider both lay dead and nearby houses made of iron sheets were destroyed.
Four of those killed were suicide bombers, two were police officers, and half a dozen were civilians, police said.
Ali said police shot at a speeding vehicle hurtling towards the gates of their training camp, before the explosion shook the area, covering it in flames and smoke.
"We believe Al Shabaab is behind this attack," Ali said.
"We fired at the car as it sped towards us, before it exploded outside our gate. Two police guards were killed."
Ali said the bombers' vehicle was a mini-lorry loaded with drums and explosives.
The Muslim Horn of Africa nation has been plagued by violence and anarchy since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Neighbours say Somalia is used as a shelter by militants intent on attacks in east Africa and further afield.
Western spy agencies say the country has become a haven for foreign jihadists. Somalia's al Shabaab rebels claimed responsibility for bombs in Uganda that killed scores of people in July.