Islamist militant group al-Shabab killed at least 50 African Union soldiers at dawn Friday and seized control of their military base in southern Somalia.
Witnesses said attackers rammed a car filled with explosives into the main gate of the base in the town of Leego, 130 kilometers south of Mogadishu, then opened fire on Burundian soldiers manning the base.
A spokesman for al-Shabab said more than 50 soldiers were killed, while Somali officials told VOA's Somali service the death toll was more than 70.
Additionally, another 20 Burundian soldiers and 40 Somali civilians were missing, and there were fears that they might have been kidnapped.
A statement from the U.S. Department of State condemned in “the strongest possible terms” Friday’s “horrifying” terrorist attack in Somalia.
The statement added, “We will continue to work with all of our allies and partners to address the shared threat of terrorism and violent extremism” to degrade and destroy terrorists' ability to attack innocent people.
The Somali government said in a statement that it "will not be deterred from achieving its ambitions of peace, progress and prosperity for its entire people and the wider region by the cowardly acts of those who hide behind a bankrupted and fraudulent interpretation of our beautiful Islamic religion.”
This was the latest of several reported al-Shabab attacks since the start of the holy month of Ramadan last week.
Troops from Burundi and Uganda make up the bulk of the African Union force that has battled al-Shabab in Somalia since 2007.
AU troops, together with Somali forces, have pushed the al-Qaida-linked militants out of Somalia's major cities, but the group still controls rural areas and continues to launch attacks. In April, al-Shabab fighters stormed Garissa University College in Kenya, killing 148 people.