Al-Shabab militants have attacked some 14 villages in southern Somalia, in an apparent attempt to disrupt a planned government offensive.
Most of the villages that came under attack Tuesday are located near the towns of K50 and Murri, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of the capital, Mogadishu.
Witnesses said teams of 10 to 12 militants attacked the villages, setting fire to houses, abducting civilians and stealing villagers' livestock.
“They took with them around 25 people mainly youngsters and torched many houses to terrorize the civilians and force them to leave their residences,” said Ibrahim Aden Najah, the governor of the Lower Shabelle region.
“I think they know about an ongoing military preparation for an offensive by Somali National Army and the African Union to liberate the entire region. They are trying to pre-empt this offensive,” he added.
Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, the president of the South West Administration, sent a request to the federal government and the African Union mission in Somalia.
“These militants continue to victimize residents in this region, who are already suffering from the impact of the drought. We appeal to the Somali government, the African Union mission in Somalia and the international community to take measures to protect these civilians from the ruthless militants and send them urgent aid too,” he told reporters in Baidoa.
Suicide bomber strikes
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber has struck a police checkpoint in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, killing himself, three others and wounding five people.
“The attack targeted police forces manning a security checkpoint in a busy junction in Bosasso just after the evening prayer,” said a regional police commander, Abdihakim Yusuf Hussein
A suicide bomber strapped with explosives rushed toward the police at the checkpoint before blowing himself up, a witness told VOA.
The attack on Tuesday is the latest attack in an escalating campaign by al-Shabab in the city.