Al-Shabaab deny air strike claim

2012-01-08 22:40

Nairobi - A top official from Somalia's Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab on Sunday denied claims the Kenyan military killed at least 60 insurgents in an air strike.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight al-Shabaab in October, after a spate of kidnappings on Kenyan territory which Nairobi accuses the Islamist rebel group of carrying out.

Kenyan military spokesperson Emmanuel Chirchir, using his twitter feed, said that over 50 insurgents were killed and 60 injured in the bombing raid on a camp near the town of Garbaharey, southern Somalia, on Friday. Colonel Cyrus Oguna, speaking to media on Saturday, upped the estimated death toll to 60.

Senior al-Shabaab commander, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow Ali, known as Abu Mansour, on Sunday confirmed an attack had taken place, but accused Kenya of lying about the number of dead.

"There were not 60 al-Shabaab troops killed," he told dpa by telephone from an undisclosed location, without revealing how many deaths were caused. "The infidels of Kenya circulated false information to cover up the casualties of their own ground forces, who are facing heavy resistance from our fighters."

An elder in the town of Garbaharey, who did not wish to be named, told dpa that air strikes definitely took place on Friday, but was unable to give any casualty figures.

It is difficult to independently verify such claims. Both sides issue wildly varying casualty figures for the same battles, and the Kenyans do not reveal how they come to their totals despite having no troops on the ground at the location of air strikes.

Target Kenya

The October offensive initially stalled due to bad weather, but Kenya has used its air power to harass al-Shabaab, targeting bases across southern Somalia, and is now beginning to press harder on the ground.

The insurgents have threatened to launch terror attacks in Kenya in response, and the British Foreign Office on Saturday warned its citizens to take extra care in the capital Nairobi.

"We believe that terrorists may be in the final stages of planning attacks," it said in a statement. "Attacks could be indiscriminate and target Kenyan institutions as well as places where expatriates and foreign travellers gather, such as hotels, shopping centres and beaches."

Security has been stepped up in Nairobi, with guards checking shoppers and cars for explosive devices at the cities upmarket shopping malls.

Al-Shabaab began its insurgency in early 2007 following Ethiopia's invasion to oust an Islamist regime, but has been on the back foot this year as it faces pressure from Kenya, pro-government forces and African Union peacekeepers.

The insurgents have been forced out of most of the capital Mogadishu, and have been ceding ground across the rest of the country.