Somali suicide bombing kills AU soldiers in Beledweyne

Somalia map

At least 16 people have been killed and more than 30 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded restaurant in the central Somali town of Beledweyne.

The Islamist militant group al-Shabab has said it carried out the attack.

The Somali government, backed by troops from several African countries, is fighting al-Shabab for control of the country.

Al-Shabab said its target was Ethiopian and Djiboutian soldiers in Beledweyne.

The bombing occurred at a tea shop popular with the troops in Beledweyne, 300km (185 miles) north of the capital, Mogadishu, close to the border with Ethiopia.

"Our main target was Ethiopian and Djibouti troops who invaded our country," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab's military operations spokesman, said.

But witnesses, including a Somali MP in Beledweyne, Dahir Amin Jessow, have told the BBC that most of those killed were civilians.

"There is a lack of medicine in the hospital and they can't cope with the flood of wounded patients, so we asked the central government to send us planes to evacuate patients," Mr Jessow said by phone.

Al-Shabab

  • "The Youth" in Arabic
  • Formed as a radical offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu, in 2006
  • Previously ran much of southern Somalia
  • Lost some popular support by banning Western aid agencies during 2011 famine
  • Estimated to have 7,000 to 9,000 fighters
  • Announced merger with al-Qaeda in 2012

Al-Shabab militants have been driven out of Somalia's major towns, including Mogadishu and the key southern port of Kismayo, by a UN-mandated African Union force of some 18,000 soldiers.

But the militants still control large parts of southern Somalia.

Last month, the group claimed the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in which 67 people died during a four-day siege.

It said it staged the attack in response to Kenya's army carrying out operations on Somali territory.

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