MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sep 1 – Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab militants rammed a suicide car bomb into an African Union base Tuesday before storming the compound, with witnesses reporting many dead, although the AU insisted it had fought off the attack.
Eye-witnesses said the Shabaab had taken over the camp and were looting the weapons stores, but the AU force in Somalia (AMISOM) insisted it was in control of the base.
Witnesses spoke of more than 20 bodies at the site, while the Shabaab claimed to have killed 50. AMISOM was unable to confirm any casualty figures.
“The base is still under AMISOM control, reports that the base has been taken over and our weapons captured are false,” an AMISOM statement said without giving further details.
The Shabaab said the attack in Janale district, 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Shabelle region, was revenge for the killing of seven civilians by Ugandan troops at a wedding in the town of Merka in July.
“The attack started with a suicide bomb explosion and the fighters stormed the base, engaging in fighting that continued inside the military camp for about 40 minutes,” said Shabaab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab.
He claimed that “about 50 soldiers” were killed in the attack and that others drowned in a nearby river while fleeing.
“The mujahedeen fighters have taken complete control of the town and the military camp as well and looted all the heavy weaponry,” Abu Musab said. “This attack was aimed to retaliate against the killing of innocent civilians in Merka by the Ugandan troops.”
An AMISOM spokesman said the Janale camp was manned by up to 150 Ugandan soldiers but could not confirm any casualty figures as he was “still waiting details” from the area commander.