Dozens of people were killed in fierce fighting between residents backed by Somali government forces and al-Shabab militants in the town of Adado in central Somalia, witnesses and regional officials told VOA on Friday.
Witnesses and Somali officials in the region said the fighting began when members of the terrorist group invaded the small town of Bahdo, about 60 kilometers east of Adado.
Somali military spokesman Yabal Haji Aden told VOA that the militants began their attack with a suicide vehicle-borne explosive, detonated near the entrance of the town. That set off an intense street battle between the militants and the town’s local militia, which was backed by units of Somali forces.
“They tried to detonate three explosives-laden vehicles ... one of [which] detonated when our soldiers hit it with a rocket-propelled grenade," the spokesman said. "They [then] abandoned the second one, and the third vehicle escaped.”
Galguduud regional Governor Ali Elmi Ganey said the joint forces killed about 47 fighters from the extremist group.
“The terrorists have tasted death, both inside and outside of the town. They left 47 dead bodies, guns and military ammunition,” he said.
Residents in the town and officials said three children, a well-known religious scholar and three soldiers were also killed during the fighting.
Bahdo is known to have been a base for moderate Islamist scholars, the governor said, explaining that fighters belonging to the moderate Sufi Islamist militia known as Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jamaa — a group nominally aligned with Somalia's military in viewing al-Shabab extremists as an enemy — were involved the fighting.
Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jamaa began a war against al-Shabab militants in late 2008 over sectarian differences but has also clashed with government forces over political differences and control of the central Somali town.
In an interview with VOA, Ahmed Shire Falagle, information minister for Galmudug state, which includes the Galguduud administrative region, said the militants’ attack on the town did not come as a surprise.
“Our forces, those of Ahlu-Sunna and the residents, [were] tipped off prior to the al-Shabab attack," he said, adding that al-Shabab suffered about 100 casualties, including the dead and injured.
After the fighting, local militia and government forces showed the bodies of some 30 dead militants.
Al-Shabab has been fighting for years to dislodge the country’s central government and has targeted moderate Islamist groups.
The group frequently carries out shootings and bombings at both military and civilian targets and has also attacked regional targets, especially in neighboring Kenya.
Analysts said Friday's fighting was the deadliest in recent years for al-Shabab and came days after Somalia's president appointed a new prime minister, who has called the fight against al-Shabab a priority.
Abdiwahid Isaq contributed to this report.