Al Qaeda-linked militants overran an African Union peacekeepers’ camp in the centre of Somalia, a security source and the group said on Tuesday, in what appears to be one of the al Shabaab group’s biggest attacks this year.
Quoting a “high ranking Burundian army official”, AFP reported that about 30 soldiers were killed and another 22 wounded, while a dozen were missing.
The militants released what it says are photos of an attack on an African Union military base in Somalia, with some images show damaged vehicles, abandoned caches of arms and gory pictures of dead soldiers in Burundian army uniform. The group says killed 59 soldiers.
Burundian president Evariste Ndayishimiye in a tweet on Wednesday described the assault “as the terrorist attack against the Burundian contingent”.
AU forces sent in helicopter gunships after the pre-dawn attack on a camp housing Burundian troops near Ceel Baraf, a village some 160 kilometres (100 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu, military officials and witnesses said.
The chairperson of the AU commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said he paid tribute to the Burundian peacekeepers who lost their lives, but did not say how many died.
Somalia’s presidency condemned the attack on the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) base near El Baraf, about 130 km (80 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, and called for increased military support.
“The mujahideen launched a pre-dawn raid on an ATMIS military base in El Baraf,” an al Shabaab statement said. “After a fierce firefight, the mujahideen managed to overrun the base and are now in complete control of the entire military base.”
Al Shabaab has been fighting for years to topple the central government and implant its rule in the Horn of Africa country based on its strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.
A video shared on social media appeared to show people looting a military base and equipment consistent with African Union forces. A fighter carrying the black flag of al Shabaab was seen standing on top of a burnt-out armoured personnel carrier within a military camp.
Al Shabaab frequently carries out bombings and gun attacks throughout Somalia. Last month it attacked the main airport in the capital.
It has previously overrun African Union bases. In 2016, al Shabaab said it had killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in El Adde near the border with Kenya. The Kenyan government has never revealed the number of casualties.