Nine killed in attack on AU base
Gunmen have attacked the African Union's main base in the Somali capital Mogadishu, leading to a battle 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 (AMISOM) Halane base camp, the mission said.
The gunmen, some disguised in Somali National Army uniforms, breached the base camp and attempted to enter critical buildings, during which five of them were killed and three others captured. Three Amisom soldiers and a civilian contractor died, the mission said.
Somali extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was 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 Mogadishu's airport, Amisom spokesman Col Ali Aden Houmed said.
"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."
AU troops are bolstering Somalia's weak government against an uprising from the al Qaida-linked al-Shabab.
In an audio posting on the militants' website, al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the attack was carried out in retaliation for the killing of the group's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane in a US air strike this year.
In the attack, Rage claimed the gunmen killed 14 AU soldiers and four foreigners, but the group habitually exaggerates the number of people it kills.
It is not the first time al-Shabab has attacked the African Union. In 2011 al-Shabab 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 injured.
The attacks underscore the militants' ability to carry out complex and deadly operations frequently even after AU troops forced them from strongholds.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu from 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 probably 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 shoot-out, and journalists were also kept away.
UN representative to Somalia Nicholas Kay condemned the attack.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild following years of political instability and civil strife since 1991, when 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 government remains weak and ineffective and wields little power outside the Mogadishu.