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Al-Shabab Blamed in AU Ambush, Suspected in Attack on Somali Forces

Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Bay regions of Somalia
Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Bay regions of Somalia

At least five African Union troops were killed in an ambush in Somalia's Middle Shabelle region Friday by al-Shabab militants, officials and security sources told VOA Somali.

The militant group also was suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing and related attack that left at least five Somali soldiers dead near a military base in Lower Shabelle, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

The ambush targeted Burundian soldiers escorting a convoy of trucks loaded with supplies near Balad, 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu.

A Somali military source, who requested anonymity, told VOA "at least five soldiers of the Burundi contingent ... have been killed and several others injured."

Burundian troops

Burundi's first vice president, Gaston Sindimwo, confirmed for VOA that at least five Burundi soldiers, serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), had been killed in the ambush.

Al-Shabab said it had killed more than 20 AU soldiers, but military officials said that figure was exaggerated.

It was not immediately clear whether the convoy was carrying AU military supplies or humanitarian aid.

FILE - Al-Shabab fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011.
FILE - Al-Shabab fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011.

Amateur video, disseminated through social media, showed abandoned trucks loaded with cartons burning in the road linking Mogadishu north to Jowhar, where the AU's Burundi troops have a base.

Residents in Qalimow village told VOA Somali that they saw al-Shabab fighters dragging the body of a foreign soldier.

Somali military officials said the Burundians were ambushed by heavily armed al-Shabab militants who were heading to attack Balad on Friday morning.

After ambushing the AU troops, the militants attacked and briefly took control of Balad.

Residents reported that the Somali and AMISOM troops remained in the southern corner of the town while militants advanced.

"They entered the town from three directions and took positions at the police headquarters and the district headquarters. They hoisted their black flag on top of some of the buildings," one witness said.

The insurgents later voluntarily withdrew as government soldiers and AMISOM troops sent reinforcements near the town.

Afgoye, near Mogadishu, Somalia
Afgoye, near Mogadishu, Somalia

Bombing at base

At least five soldiers and a suicide bomber were killed in two related incidents early Friday at the military base in Afgoye, Somali government and security officials said.

Somali authorities said the bomber rammed a minivan full of explosives into base's main gate. It was the second suicide strike against Somali security forces in 24 hours.

"The guards at the base prevented him from entering inside and he blew himself up at the gate, killing one soldier," said Abdifitah Haji Abdulle, deputy governor for the region. "The bomber and the soldier died on the spot."

Three other soldiers were injured in that attack, a police commander told local radio.

Then, a truck carrying the wounded soldiers from the military base struck a roadside bomb, according to security officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. They said at least four more soldiers were killed and another two were injured. It was not clear whether any of those killed were among the initially injured.

Abdulle could not confirm the death toll but said the number was "quite significant."

Somali troops stationed at the base were trained by the United Arab Emirates.

On Thursday, at least two soldiers were killed and five other people wounded in an al-Shabab suicide car bomb attack at a checkpoint 15 kilometers outside Mogadishu.