It was the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history, and one of the world’s worst in years.
When the massive blast occurred on Saturday, Oct. 14, Associated Press video journalist Mohamed Sheikh Nor was playing with his 10-month-old daughter at their home. He immediately knew it was not an average Mogadishu bombing.
“The explosion shook the rooms in my home, which is not far from the bomb site, and blew off part of the roof,” Sheikh Nor said. He grabbed his wife and wailing daughter and, covered in dust, escaped unharmed. “Outside, we could see the explosion was close to us. It was just 70 steps away from our home.”
Recognizing the unprecedented force of the explosion in a city long targeted by the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab, Sheikh Nor insisted to editors that the casualties would be well over 100. He and his AP colleagues hurried to the scene, where buildings had been mangled and overturned cars were ablaze. The all-formats team – comprising Sheikh Nor in video, AP photographer Farah Abdi Warsameh and AP text reporter Abdi Guled – delivered the first stunning images and stories of grief from the smoking scene. Their courageous, traumatic and heart-rending effort earns this week’s Beat of the Week.
It soon became clear that Sheikh Nor’s initial death estimate was too low.
"There was blood and flesh everywhere. I could hear people screaming for help and I tried to help but they were trapped in the rubble," he recounted. "I filmed the buildings that were destroyed. I filmed the rescue workers and the injured and the bodies. It was terrible. I knew the world should see this."
While Sheikh Nor secured exclusive written permissions for eyewitness photos and video and provided live video to APTN Direct, along with compelling self-shot video, photographer Warsameh delivered powerful still images of the dead and grieving, including one of children carrying away charred remains in a cardboard box. One of Warsameh’s images made the front page of The New York Times. One of Sheikh Nor’s photographs was used in a New Yorker article asking where global sympathy was for the attack. Meanwhile, reporter Guled had multiple scoops on the rising death toll while speaking to weeping families, exhausted doctors and badly injured victims. The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Guardian and others used the AP’s text story while The New York Times borrowed from it heavily.
The often-tested team of Sheikh Nor, Warsameh and Guled remained out in the streets throughout the week, covering the effects of the blast on Mogadishu, a city that in recent months had believed a recovery from a quarter-century of conflict might finally be within reach. Although al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility for the bombing, experts say only that extremist group has the capability of assembling such a massive explosive.
As of Friday, the Mogadishu death toll stood at more than 350, with dozens still missing.
For their intrepid work chronicling the story of a city once again devastated by violence and war, Sheikh Nor, Warsameh and Guled share this week’s $500 award.