Somalia Islamist militants have mounted heavy attacks against African Union and Somali troops in Mogadishu, militants and witnesses said. At least a dozen people were killed, though there were conflicting reports on the number of casualties.
The al-Shabaab rebels, armed with grenades, bazookas and suicide vests, attacked an African Union peacekeeping base near Mogadishu stadium, where government troops are also based. The African Union said the al-Qaeda-linked militants deployed two suicide bombers. Witnesses said at least seven soldiers, including Somali government and African Union troops, had been killed, along with six al-Shabaab militants. The al-Shabaab said they had killed scores of peacekeepers, though the group had been known to embellish its reports.
The African Union said it had beaten back the assault, defending a main artery in Mogadishu, and saying the strike had failed. At least 10 peacekeepers were wounded, “some of them seriously,” according to a statement.
The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia has been able to take control of most of the capital, Mogadishu, but al-Shabaab militants have continued to carry out attacks.
“What we are doing now is defending ourselves,” said al-Shabaab spokesman Ali MohamudÁRage. “It's not something strange. Every day is fighting, killing.”
The al-Shabaab took over much of the country in 2006, implementing a harsh version of Islamic law, banning music, soccer and bras, but they have been steadily losing power and support.
Two weeks ago, Kenyan troops crossed the border, vowing to drive the al-Shabaab out of southern Somalia. The Kenyan military said it was “within sight” of al-Shabaab's stronghold, the port city of Kismayu.
On Friday, Kenyan troops overtook the al-Shabaab-controlled coastal city of Burgavo, about 136 km south of Kismayu, killing 18 pirates, who sometimes cooperate with the al-Shabaab.
Kenyan aircraft also struck the inland city of Anole, killing 19 al-Shabaab militants. Military observers in Somalia estimate that 1,500 to 3,000 Kenyan troops are now in Somalia. But the offensive, which Kenya says it planned in advance and began after Somali gunmen carried out several kidnappings of Westerners, has provoked a spate of retaliatory attacks by al-Shabaab in Kenya.
The al-Shabaab have threatened terrorist attacks in Kenya and claimed responsibility for a series of attacks there in the last week. “The Kenyan government is the one who is responsible,” Rage, the al-Shabab spokesman, said in a telephone interviewAnalysts say they believe there could be thousands of al-Shabab sympathizers in Kenya. Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled to Kenya, where they are creating problems for Kenya, said Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki. — New York Times News Service