MOGADISHU, August 31- Somalia’s Shabaab rebels carried out a major car bomb and gun attack against an intelligence headquarters in central Mogadishu on Sunday, leaving at least seven militants and four others dead.
The Al Qaeda linked militia claimed responsibility for the raid against the complex, which also houses a major detention facility, saying it was being used for the “torture and humiliation” of “innocent Muslims”.
The coordinated attack also came a day after Somalia’s national army and African Union forces said they had captured a Shabaab stronghold as part of a joint offensive aimed at seizing key ports and cutting off a key source of revenue for the Islamist rebels.
In Sunday’s attack, police and witnesses said a car bomb was detonated outside the National Intelligence Centre and was followed by a raid by gunmen disguised in national army uniforms – a method of attack already used several times this year by the Shabaab.
“There were seven attackers. One of them blew himself in the car while the six others were killed by the security forces,” interior ministry spokesman Mohamed Yusuf told reporters, adding that three members of the security forces and a civilian were also killed.
“The attack is over now and the attackers have failed to achieve their goal aimed at interrupting the Indian Ocean operation,” he said, referring to the current AU and government ground offensive.
The Shabaab’s military spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, confirmed the militants carried out the attack and claimed the militants had killed 15 members of the security forces.
“Our courageous Mujahideen in Mogadishu succeeded in attacking the notorious Jila’ow prison, controlled by the apostate intelligence services. For a long time innocent Muslims suffered in the dungeons of that prison while being subjected to torture and humiliation,” he said in a statement.
– AU-government offensive –
The Jilicow intelligence facility and detention facility is located close the Villa Somalia, the complex that houses the office of Somalia’s internationally backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The Villa Somalia was hit by a similar attack in July, when a car bomb was detonated and Shabaab fighters stormed the complex before blowing themselves up. The presidential palace was also attacked in a similar fashion in February, while the parliament complex was hit by a coordinated car bomb and gun attack in May.
Shabaab rebels have continued to target key areas of government or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities — who are backed by the African Union’s 22,000-strong AMISOM force – that they are winning the war against the Islamist fighters.
On Saturday the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said it had captured the town of Bulomarer, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of Mogadishu, as part of what it has called “Operation Indian Ocean”.
The town was the scene of an attempted raid by French commandos in January 2013 to free a secret agent being held hostage. The bid failed and resulted in the death of two French soldiers and the hostage.
AMISOM and Somali government troops were also seen on roads towards Barawe, the last major port held by the hardline gunmen on Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast.
Deployed in Somalia in 2007, AMISOM has made a series of advances in the past three years. A new offensive launched on Saturday targets the Shebab’s lucrative charcoal trade by cutting off access to the Indian Ocean coastline.
The southern port of Barawe is now one of the few major settlements under Shabaab control, and is vital to Shabaab finances – with the export of charcoal generating at least $25 million (19 million euros) a year for the Shabaab, according to UN estimates.