Somalia's al-Qaida-linked militant group has denounced the extension of the U.N. Security Council mandate for African Union troops to stay in Somalia. The group said it will target AMISOM with more suicide bombings and mortar attacks if the peacekeepers do not leave immediately.
Speaking to the local media, al-Shabab's newly-appointed spokesman Ali Mohamud Rageh, also known as Ali Dhere, called the U.N. Security Council's decision an "atrocity."
Dhere said the U.N. Security Council is propping up an illegitimate government in Mogadishu through AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. He said AMISOM troops will be the target of more suicide and mortar attacks, if they do not withdraw from the country.
On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the 4,300-member AMISOM force of Ugandan and Burundian soldiers for another eight months. For the first time, the Security Council also agreed to pay for and provide logistical support to the Somali government, which is currently locked in a violent power struggle with militant Islamists.
The AU Special Envoy to Somalia Nicolas Bwakira told VOA that African Union peacekeepers will stay in Somalia as long as they are needed and they will not be intimidated by al-Shabab or any other group that rejects peace.
"Of course, we condemn the threat. We are not there to fight but to keep peace. We will react to any aggression," he said.
AMISOM soldiers arrived in the Somali capital Mogadishu two years ago to support the country's weak transitional government under President Abdullahi Yusuf. The mandate of the mission was extended several times to protect key installations in the capital and to provide humanitarian aid during a violent al-Shabab-led insurgency against the government and the Ethiopian troops protecting it.
Al-Shabab, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, eventually took power in many areas of southern and central Somalia, leaving the government in control of only a few blocks in the capital.
In January, Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia under a U.N.-sponsored deal with moderate Islamist cleric Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Ahmed, who once led the opposition movement against Yusuf's government, was subsequently elected president of a new Islamist-led interim government. But al-Shabab and another hard-line opposition faction called Hisbul Islam have labeled Sharif's government a 'western stooge" and have refused to reconcile.
In the past, al-Shabab has attacked peacekeepers with roadside bombs and mortar attacks. The worst single attack occurred in February, when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle into an AMISOM base and killed 11 soldiers from Burundi.
Somalis and international human rights groups have accused AMISOM of responding to attacks with indiscriminate fire and killing civilians. As an opposition leader, President Sharif was also highly critical of the peacekeeping mission. But he now concedes that the troops are needed to defend the capital.
Earlier this month, al-Shabab and allied fighters, including foreign militants, launched a ferocious attack on government and pro-government forces in Mogadishu. But the militants failed to take the presidential palace, the seaport and the airport. All three are in key areas under the protection of AMISOM troops.