MOGADISHU, Aug 17 – Armed men attacked a World Food Programme compound in Somalia, sparking a gunfight with security guards in which three attackers were killed, UN officials said Monday.
A spokesman said it could have been an attempt to kidnap UN staff and international staff were flown to Nairobi on Monday.
"Late on Sunday, seven to 10 gunmen approached WFP’s compound in Wajid and ordered our guards to open the gate. The guards refused, the gunmen opened fire and the guards returned fire," WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said.
"In the ensuing gunbattle, which lasted about 15 minutes, three of the gunmen were killed and one was wounded. One guard was slightly wounded, the attackers then retreated," he said.
Smerdon described the attackers as "rogue elements of Al-Shebab from outside Wajid".
The Shebab are an Al Qaeda-inspired armed group that controls much of southern and central Somalia and launched a military offensive against the government more than three months ago.
"We don’t have a clear motive but we think it might have been an attempt to kidnap UN staff," Smerdon added.
He said the nine international UN staff inside the compound at the time of the attack were flown to Nairobi early Monday.
The WFP has a main storage facility in Wajid, which is some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
"Our operations are unaffected because ground food distributions were suspended for August and September because of the ongoing harvest. Our supplementary feeding programmes continue through NGO partners," Smerdon said.
The Shebab have suffered serious setbacks at the hands of pro-government forces, especially the moderate Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa.
Abducting foreigners has become a way for many parties involved in Somalia’s unrest to levy funds and finance their armament.
Three foreign aid workers from the Action Contre la Faim (ACF) organisation were snatched by Shebab-linked militants last month in Mandera.
In Bulohawo, 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Wajid, pro-government forces on Monday ousted Shebab fighters who had recently controlled the village, which sits just across the border from the kenyan town of Mandera.
Residents said militia groups and fighters linked to Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa launched an assault on key positions held by the Shebab and quickly gained the upper hand.
"Our forces have taken control of Bulohawo following short clashes with the extremist rebels who had been controlling the town over the past few months," said Abdi Bare Abdi, a spokesman for the pro-government militants, said.
Residents of Bulohawo confirmed that militiamen had reclaimed control of the town but were not immmediately able to say whether there had been casualties.
"We heard the gunfire early this morning on the outskirts of the town and minutes later, heavily-armed militants supporting the Somali government entered the town," resident Abdullahi Hirsi told AFP by phone.
"The Shebab militants deserted the town after the brief exchange of fire," Ali Abdi Mohamed, another Bulohawo resident, said.