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Gunfight in Somalia: Attack From al-Shabaab

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By SoF correspondent Gatimu Juma

Early morning gunfire was the first sign of a deadly assault at a military base about 100 miles from Mogadishu, alerting local residents to the Tuesday attack by al-Shabaab. 

Officials and residents near the base said that many dozen Burundi soldiers were killed, and others were wounded or captured. The numbers are not clear, but the attack is described as the deadliest assault against the peacekeeping mission in five years. It was the first attack on such a mission since the newly formed African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) replaced the previous group, AMISOM, on April 1.

There was no hint on Monday evening of what was to come, according to a local man who said that “everything was normal.” The situation changed overnight.

“It was very quiet, and then early in the morning, we heard some kind of explosion, and then the sounds of guns,” the man said. “It was a lot of shooting.”

The sound was the beginning phase of an assault on the al-Baraf military base, where the African Union peacekeeping mission is located. The attack involved fighters from al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. It began when two vehicles filled with explosives stormed the base. 

Soldiers inside the compound engaged in a gunfight against the attackers. 

“We heard helicopters, too,” the local man said, describing the armed reaction force from the African Union.

Many soldiers from Somalia were not there, due to the Eid holiday, leaving about 200 mostly Burundi soldiers, officials said. Afterwards, many were found without their boots, and one was beheaded. 

The militant al-Shabaab follows a strict version of Sharia law, and wants to enforce that view inside Somalia. The group controls a number of villages, and also many major roads around the capital, Mogadishu. The group controlled the capital until 2011, when AU forces drove it out.

The group recently released a message to the Somali government. The message read, in part:

“Everyone is under the rule of God, whoever stops and stands between us and them, we will fight them until we kill them or we die.”

Gatimu Juma covers the Horn of Africa.

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