Militant Islamist group al Shabaab struck a Somali government military base with car bombs and gunfire in a battle both sides said caused multiple deaths.
Witnesses said some local residents were killed by stray crossfire during the mid-morning attack on the base in Awdheegle, south-west of Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab is fighting the UN-backed Somali government and its international allies in a quest to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law. The Horn of Africa nation has been riven by civil war since 1992, when clan-based warlords overthrew a dictator, then turned on each other.
General Yusuf Rage Odowa, commander of operations in Somalia’s army, said troops repelled jihadists in Awdheegle. “The forces knew the cunning of the militants and they foiled the attack,” he said, adding some attackers’ corpses lay at the scene while others were captured.
Captain Hussein Ali, said soldiers behind sandbags stopped car bombs reaching the base, in an agricultural district along the Shabelle River, by firing to detonate them.
“There are casualties from al Shabaab and government forces, but we have no exact figure,” he said.
The al Qaeda-linked group said it killed 50 soldiers and suffered two losses of militants who drove the car bombs. Army vehicles were burned, it added.
Al Shabaab and government officials routinely give different versions and casualty figures for attacks.
Among those killed was a journalist working with the army radio station, the Federation of Somali Journalists said.
The attack came after Somali government forces last week captured most of Awdheegle district.
“We heard two huge blasts and gunfire from the direction of the military base. I saw soldiers running away to escape but we cannot know how many were killed,” elder Aden Abdullahi told Reuters from the scene.
Shopkeeper and mother-of-four Halima Farah told Reuters government troops controlled the town after the attack.
“We have now come out of the houses,” Farah said by phone.
“We believe militants and government suffered losses of life but we cannot see their casualties. Stray bullets killed people in their houses,” she said, adding a relative died after being hit in the head.