Somalia’s army said Saturday that soldiers had killed scores of Al-Shabaab gunmen who attacked two key military bases, while police said five civilians died in a suicide bombing in Mogadishu.
In a particularly bloody day for Somalia, where the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab launches regular attacks against government and civilian targets, both sides claimed they had inflicted heavy casualties on the other.
Death tolls could not be independently confirmed.
In the early hours of the morning, Al-Shabaab targeted the military bases in the towns of Awdheegle and Bariire — some 30 kilometres (17 miles) apart. Both are forward operating bases in the fight against the Islamist group.
“The army killed 76 fighters and captured 10 others alive during the fighting,” Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, the commander of the infantry contingent in the region told journalists.
“The terror attacks were foiled and the dead bodies of those they had been misled into the fight are strewn around here,” he added.
He did not give any details of losses suffered by the army.
Witnesses in Awdheegle — home to the larger of the two bases — said Somali troops had repelled the militants after around an hour of heavy fighting.
“Shabaab gunmen used a vehicle loaded with explosives to launch the attack, but they failed to enter the camp after nearly an hour of exchanging machine gun fire with the Somali troops,” town resident Mohamed Ali said by phone.
“I saw several dead bodies of the Shabaab gunmen near the camp where the fighting occurred, the Somali soldiers paraded these bodies after the fighting.”
In Bariire, a car bomb was detonated before heavily armed gunmen stormed the base.
“We heard a heavy explosion caused by a suicide bomber ramming a car at the entrance to the base and a heavy exchange of gunfire followed,” said resident Abdirahim Malin.
“A few minutes later the militant fighters managed to enter the camp and torched some military supplies belonging to the Somali army.”
Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a long insurgency to unseat the internationally backed government in Mogadishu, claimed responsiblity for the attack in a statement on a pro-Shabaab website.
“We have killed 47 soldiers inside the camp and captured six military vehicles and huge amount of other military supplies during the Bariire military camp fighting,” the group’s spokesman Abdiasiz Abu-Musab was cited as saying.
Casualties are often difficult to establish from Al-Shabaab attacks in remote areas, especially when the military is targeted.
Al-Shabaab were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still control swathes of territory from where they plan and launch frequent attacks.
Suicide bomber at tea shop
In Mogadishu, five civilians, including a child, were killed when a suicide bomber detonated himself at a tea shop, police said.
“Around 7 pm in the evening, a suicide bomber detonated himself at a tea shop frequented by the youth. Six people, four of them youths, a child, and the suicide bomber died in the blast. Four others were wounded,” police spokesman Sadiq Dudishe said in a statement.
A witness said the bomber walked into a crowd who were drinking tea in an open area near a police station.
“I was leaving a restaurant just a few hundred meters away from where the blast occurred, I was shocked by the blast and it was huge. I saw people rushing to the scene and wounded being carried,” said witness Ali Mohamed.
“Police cordoned off the area, but I saw several dead bodies carried away in an ambulance, they were young men, two of them from the neighbourhood where I live,” he added.