The United Nation's World Food Program says rogue members of Somalia's extremist al-Shabab group attempted to raid its compound late Sunday in the Somali town of Wajid, about 300 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
World Food Program spokesman, Peter Smerdon, tells VOA that as many as 10 heavily-armed gunmen approached the WFP compound in Wajid shortly before midnight Sunday.
Smerdon says they ordered the security guards to open the gate. When the guards refused, the gunmen opened fire.
"In the ensuing gun battle, which lasted about 15 minutes, three of the gunmen were killed and one was seriously wounded. One guard was slightly wounded. The attackers were rogue elements of al-Shabab from outside Wajid and they subsequently left Wajid after the assault on the compound," he said.
Smerdon says it is likely the gunmen had intended to kidnap foreign aid workers staying at the compound. Wajid, in Somalia's northwestern Bakool region, is in an area controlled by al-Shabab, but Smerdon says there is no evidence to suggest that al-Shabab authorities had ordered the attack.
Nine international U.N. staff, seven from WFP and two from other U.N. agencies, have been temporarily evacuated to Nairobi. WFP says it will continue its supplementary feeding programs in the region through local non-governmental organization partners.
Aid workers have been frequent targets of kidnappings and assassinations during a two-year, al-Shabab-led insurgency against the country's U.N.-backed transitional government in Mogadishu. Eight aid workers have been killed in Somalia this year and 13 remain in captivity.
Meanwhile, south of Wajid in the Gedo region, forces loyal to the armed Sufi Muslim group, Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a say they captured the town of Bulo Hawa from al-Shabab militants early Monday.
Bulo Hawo is near the border from the Kenyan town of Mandera, and like much of southern Somalia, it had been under the control of al-Shabab, an extremist group with ties to al-Qaida and designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
A spokesman for Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a, Yusuf al-Ashari, described the takeover of Bulo Hawa as a victory for all Somalis, who reject al-Shabab's extremism.
The Sufi cleric says Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a will continue its holy war against al-Shabab until all innocent Muslims are free from what he termed "the evil group."
Al-Shabab leaders in the southern city of Kismayo immediately called on al-Shabab fighters to mobilize in Gedo and defend the towns from Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a attacks. Al-Shabab has repeatedly accused Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a of being militarily backed by neighboring Ethiopia, a charge the Sufi group denies.
Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a took up arms last December after al-Shabab members declared Sufism to be a heretical version of Islam and desecrated the graves of Sufi clerics in southern Somalia. Since then, al-Shabab has suffered several military setbacks at the hands of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a in central and south-central Somalia.