MOGADISHU: The Islamist militant group Al-Shabab claimed to have killed at least 50 soldiers in a double car-bomb and gun attack on Wednesday on a military base in Somalia.
Civilians were also killed in the crossfire in an hour-long gunbattle at the base in Awdheegle, 70 km southwest of the capital, Mogadishu.
“We heard two huge blasts and gunfire from the direction of the military base. I saw several soldiers running away to escape but we cannot know how many were killed,” Awdheegle resident Aden Abdullahi said.
Halima Farah, a shopkeeper, said government troops were in control of the town after the attack. “We believe both the militants and government suffered great loss of life, but we cannot see their casualties. Stray bullets killed people in their homes.”
Al-Shabab, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, said it had killed 50 soldiers and lost only two of its members who drove the car bombs. Army vehicles were also burned, it said.
However, the Somali army’s operations commander Gen. Yusuf Rageh Odowa said his forces had repelled the militants, and that many of the attackers’ corpses lay at the scene while others were captured.
“After the blasts they tried to attack the army defenses but were defeated. We are still pursuing them. Some soldiers sustained minor injuries from blast shrapnel but nothing major,” he said.
Capt. Hussein Ali, a military officer from a nearby town, said soldiers behind sandbags had stopped the car bombs from reaching the base by firing to detonate them.
“There are casualties from Al-Shabab and government forces, but we have no exact figure,” he said.
Wednesday’s attack followed last week’s recapture by government forces of most of Awdheegle district. Al-Shabab was forced out of Mogadishu in 2011 and has since lost most of its other strongholds.
However, the attack has renewed the focus on the militants’ links with Qatar. Evidence emerged this month that Doha colluded in Al-Shabab attacks in Somalia targeting the assets of other Gulf states.
A phone conversation between Khalifa Kayed Al-Muhanadi, a Qatari businessman close to Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Hassan bin Hamza Hashem, the Qatari ambassador to Somalia, revealed Doha’s involvement in Al-Shabab terrorism in the port of Bosaso, which is operated by the Dubai company DP World.
“The bombings and killings, we know who is behind them,” Al-Muhanadi told the envoy. “Our friends were behind the last bombings.”