Gunmen attacked the African Union’s main base in the Somali capital of Mogadishu yesterday leading to an exchange of gunfire between militants and soldiers that killed at least nine people, including three soldiers.
Three militants were captured during the Christmas Day lunch-hour attack on the African Union Mission to Somalia’s Halane base camp.
The mission, Amisom, said the gunmen, some of whom were disguised in Somali National Army uniforms, breached the base camp and attempted to gain access to critical infrastructure, during which five of them were killed and three others captured. Three Amisom soldiers and a civilian contractor were killed.
Somali extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack and said they were targeting a Christmas party at the base, which also houses Western embassies and United Nations offices.
At least eight men entered the AU base near the Mogadishu airport, Amisom spokesperson Colonel Ali Aden Houmed said. He said the base was now calm.
“Our forces shot dead three of them, two detonated themselves near a fuel depot,” he said.
“An investigation is under way on how they entered the base,” he said, adding that the attack was launched at a time when people were busy at lunch.
AU troops are bolstering Somalia’s weak government against an insurgency from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab.
In an audio posted on the militants’ website, al-Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the attack on the AU base was carried out in retaliation for the killing of the group’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US airstrike this year.
In the attack, Rage claimed they killed 14 AU soldiers and four foreigners, but the group habitually exaggerates the number of people it kills.
This is not the first time al-Shabaab has attacked the African Union. In 2011 al-Shabaab gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked an African Union base in Mogadishu sparking a two-hour gunfight that left at least 10 people dead. Earlier this month, a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a UN convoy near Mogadishu’s airport, killing three people just after Somalia’s president entered the protected airport area. No UN staff were killed or injured, said the UN
The attacks underscore the militants’ ability to carry out complex and deadly operations frequently even after AU troops forced them from strongholds.
Al-Shabaab controlled much of Mogadishu during the years 2007 to 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital city by African Union forces. The militants then also lost control of the port city of Kismayo, crippling one of its major income generators.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard earlier yesterday after militants entered the base, said Mohamed Abdi, a policeman at the capital’s airport, which shares a fence with the AU base.
Ali Abdullahi, who lives near the airport, said AU troops took up positions inside. All roads leading to the airport were sealed following the shootout, and journalists were also kept away.
The United Nations representative to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned the attack on Twitter.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild following years of political instability and civil strife since 1991, when the dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power.
The United States and the UN, among others, have warned that political infighting in Somalia is putting at risk the security gains made in the country. The federal government remains weak and ineffective and wields little power outside the capital Mogadishu.