(Adds 10 dead, police quote, scene detail)
MOGADISHU, March 18 (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded near the presidential palace in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Monday, killing at least 10 people in a blast that appeared to target senior government officials, police said.
The suicide attacker detonated explosives while driving along a boulevard that runs between the palace and the national theatre, a route lined by tearooms that were engulfed in fire moments after the blast, senior police officer Abdiqadir Mohamud said. A public minibus driving along the road burst into flames.
"The suicide car bomber targeted a senior national security officer whose car was passing near the theatre," Mohamud told Reuters. "Most of the people who died were on board the minibus - civilians. This public vehicle coincidentally came between the government car and the car bomb when it was hit. Littered in the scene are human hands and flesh."
Security in Mogadishu has improved greatly since a military offensive drove Islamist rebels allied to al Qaeda out of the city in August 2011. But bombings and assassinations in Mogadishu, blamed on militants, still occur often.
It was not clear who was behind Monday's bombing. The al Shabaab insurgent group that has claimed numerous similar attacks was not immediately available for comment.
In late September, al Shabaab withdrew from the southern Indian Ocean port of Kismayu, their last major urban bastion in the Horn of Africa state, signalling their demise as a quasi-conventional military force. But they pledged to step up a campaign of suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks. (Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Mark Heinrich)