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By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded at a checkpoint less than a kilometer away from the presidential compound in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, police said.

"A suicide car bomb rammed into a checkpoint near the national theatre. It is too early to know details and casualties," said Ahmed Hussein, a police officer.

The theatre is about 300 meters away from the heavily-fortified compound known as Villa Somalia, which also houses other government agencies.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the explosion. In the past, al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab has taken responsibility for blasts and gun attacks in the capital.

Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.

The group's insurgency aims to drive out the peacekeepers, topple Somalia's western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state.

Somalia swore in a new leader last month. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has promised al Shabaab's fighters "a good life" if they surrender.

(Writing by Aaron Maasho, editing by Ed Osmond)

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