MOGADISHU (Reuters) – A government military base in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia was struck by car bombs and gunfire on Wednesday, residents and a military officer said, and the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The military officer said the bombs exploded outside the base, in mid-morning attack in Awdheegle, an agricultural district along the Shabelle River, 70 km southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“The military base is surrounded with heavy sandbags. The two car bombs were fired at and so exploded outside the base,” Captain Hussein Ali, a military officer in another town in the same region, told Reuters.
“There are casualties from al Shabaab and government forces but we have no exact figure. Al Shabaab cut off some of the private telecommunications.”
Last week, Somali government forces had captured most parts of Awdheegle district.
“We heard two huge blasts and gunfire from the direction of the Somali military base. I saw several soldiers running away from the base to escape but we cannot know how many were killed,” elder Aden Abdullahi told Reuters.
Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had killed 50 soldiers and two of its fighters had died.
“Two mujahideen driving two car bombs, one after the other, entered the Somali base in Awdhigle district today. We killed 50 government soldiers and burnt their vehicles,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman said.
The jihadist group and government officials tend to give sharply differing casualty figures for attacks.
Al Shabaab is fighting the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government and its international allies in a quest to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
It was forced out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds. But it remains a threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of an African Union-mandated peacekeeping force that helps defend the central government.
Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1992, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.