Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group attacked an African Union (AU) mission troop camp in the Shabelle region in the centre of the country, a local elder and the group said on Tuesday, and another resident said three civilians died in the crossfire.
The resident, who lives in a village near the scene, later said he saw two helicopters flying by and gunfire coming from them.
“We were awoken by huge blasts early in the morning. The blasts were at the AU mission base. Heavy exchange of gunfire followed,” local elder Mohamed Nur told Reuters by phone from El Baraf, about 130km north of the capital Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab, which has been fighting for years to topple the central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The Mujahideen launched a predawn raid on an AU mission military base in El Baraf,” Al-Shabaab said. “After a fierce firefight, the Mujahideen managed to overrun the base and are in complete control of the entire base.”
Farah Hussein, a shopkeeper, told Reuters from El Baraf that after the initial attack, helicopters were seen flying above the scene. “We heard gunshots and weapons being fired from the helicopters,” he said by phone.
“The AU forces are in the jungles pursuing the Al-Shabaab fighters. We know three civilians died and five others were injured in the fighting.”
Officials in Shabelle and the AU mission were not immediately available to comment.
Al-Shabaab frequently carries out bombings and gun attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere as part of its war against the Horn of Africa country’s central government.
It also attacks soldiers working for the AU peacekeeping mission.