At least 16 people were killed, most of them regional government soldiers, after al-Shabab militants attacked the Somalia town of Beled Hawo on Monday, officials and residents said. Four other people were killed in incidents elsewhere in the country.
Security sources say militants attacked three locations in Beled Hawo, which sits on the Somalia-Kenya border.
The first attack targeted a military base, about six kilometers outside Beled Hawo. The mayor of Beled Hawo, Mohamud Hayd Osman, told VOA Somali the militants detonated a suicide car bomb before storming the base.
“The troops evacuated their wounded, and retreated to another location three kilometers away,” he said.
Independent security sources told VOA Somali that 14 government soldiers were killed in the attack, with eight others wounded. Soldiers fled the base following the heavy attack and crossed into Kenya, the sources say.
After overrunning the base, militants entered the town and attacked the main police station, residents told VOA.
Osman says two civilians were killed in that attack. “They were unable to penetrate the station first, but they have detonated explosives on the perimeter,” he said.
The third attack by the militants targeted the town’s district headquarters. Osman said the militants detonated explosives at the building that houses the mayor’s office, causing damage.
As al-Shabab fighters and Somali soldiers battled, Kenyan troops launched artillery fire on advancing militants to prevent them from entering Kenya.
Residents also said they saw Kenyan military helicopters in the air, trying to force al-Shabab militants to withdraw from the town. The militants retreated just over an hour after entering the town, Osman said.
Al-Shabab claimed to have killed nearly 40 soldiers and freed 35 inmates from prison. Osman denies the claim. He said police freed the prisoners in order to save them from being killed by al-Shabab.
Meanwhile, three government soldiers were killed in an ambush by militants near the town of Bal’ad, 30 kilometers from Mogadishu, witnesses said. They told VOA Somali that gunmen ambushed a military convoy which departed Bal’ad on its way to Jowhar town.
In Mogadishu, a car bomb went off in the city’s busiest road. Witnesses said one person was killed and four others were injured in the car bomb at Maka Al-Mukarama road.