AU base attacked in Somalia
Mogadishu - A team of suicide bombers and gunmen disguised as soldiers assaulted an African Union base in the Somali capital on Saturday, sparking a two-hour gunfight that left at least 10 people dead, security officials said. The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group that claimed the attack said one of the bombers was Somali-American.
The attack underscored the militants' ability to carry out complex and deadly operations even after AU troops forced them from most of Mogadishu and a famine in their strongholds weakened their forces. Earlier this month, Kenya sent troops into Somalia following a string of cross-border attacks and kidnappings blamed on Somali gunmen and militants battling Somalia's weak, UN-backed government.
During Saturday's attack, the two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the entrance to the compound, then more armed attackers jumped over the walls, a Nairobi-based security official said. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.
The true extent of casualties from the assault was unclear, although a Somali soldier, Colonel Nor Abdi, said at least 10 people were killed.
"They were dressed in Somali military uniform and disguised as ordinary soldiers," Abdi said. "Then they tried to enter the base and (AU) soldiers fired at them. Then heavy gunfire started and all of them were killed. I don't know how many they were but they were more than 10 men."
In a claim posted on Somalimemo.net, a website it frequently uses, al-Shabab militants said one of the bombers was a Somali-American and claimed he was the second Somali-American involved in a suicide attack in Mogadishu within five months. They did not name the youth or offer further details, and the claim could not immediately be independently verified.
US authorities say that around 20 American citizens, most of Somali descent, have travelled to Somalia to fight with the al-Shabab insurgents. The most well-known among them is Omar Hammami from Alabama, known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki, who posts internet videos in which he raps about the conflict.
Al-Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of AU soldiers and government troops in Saturday's assault, but the group habitually exaggerates the number of people it kills and an AU statement did not mention casualty figures.
"With the access routes to the base cut off by other units of the Mujahideen, the Ugandan forces and (government) militia trapped inside the compound were soon massacred and all military arsenal and ammunitions seized. Some of the Ugandan soldiers who managed to escape the compound were later pursued and killed," the al-Shabab statement said.
It was written in perfect English, a sign of the growing sophistication of al-Shabab's media wing.
The AU statement said its forces had "beaten off" the attack. AU troops have been in Somalia since 2007. About 9 000 AU soldiers are helping Somalia's government hang on to the capital.