Somalia's al-Shabab attacks army hotel in Bulo-burde

Amisom Djiboutian Commander Col Osman Doubad (C) walks with the Hiran Governor Abdi Farah Laqanyo and Amisom chief of staff Gen Soubaghle, after successfully capturing the al Shabab-held Bulo-burde in the Hiran region of Somalia - 14 March 2014 Amisom and Somali government forces march around Bulo-burde after its capture last week

Somali Islamist fighters have attacked a hotel in a strategic central town the militants lost control of last week.

A car bomb exploded by the hotel in Bulo-burde where African Union (AU) and Somali officers were staying and gunfire continued for another five hours, witnesses said.

Six soldiers were killed, including a top Somali army commander, the AU said.

The al-Shabab Islamist group said it was behind the attack and that 30 AU and army officers had been killed.

A spokesman for the 22,000-strong AU force in Somalia (Amisom), Col Ali Adan Humad, said all the al-Shabab fighters involved in the raid had been killed, without specifying numbers.

map

Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has waged an eight-year insurgency to overthrow the weak UN-backed government and create an Islamic state in Somalia.

Key bridge

The BBC's Ibrahim Ade in the capital, Mogadishu, says al-Shabab had occupied Bulo-burde for more than five years.

The town, which has a strategic bridge over the River Shabelle and is at a crossroads linking various regions of the country, was an important base for al-Shabab.

Bulo-burde was captured as part of an ongoing AU and government offensive against al-Shabab, which controls much of south and central Somalia.

Communications to the central Hiran region went down not long after the fighting and gunfire in Bulo-burde ended, our reporter says.

Witnesses told the BBC the car blast at the hotel happened at 02:00 local time (23:00 GMT) and the fighting went on until about 07:00.

Col Humad said three Djiboutian soldiers and three Somali soldiers, including Col Mohamud Amin - the military commander of Hiran who was leading the offensive in the region - were killed.

Al-Shabab fighters in  Mogadishu, Somalia (5 March 2012) Somalia's militants have pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda

Ten soldiers were also wounded, he said.

Al-Shabab at-a-glance

  • "The Youth" in Arabic
  • Formed as a radical offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu, in 2006
  • Controls most of southern Somalia
  • Estimated to have 5,000 fighters
  • Announced merger with al-Qaeda in 2012

Earlier, Col Humad denied there were casualties when an Amisom convoy was attacked near its base in Arbiska outside Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab had released a statement saying that seven Burundian peacekeepers and five American nationals travelling in the vehicles were killed on Monday afternoon.

The al-Qaeda-linked group lost control of Mogadishu in 2011, but has intensified bombings and mortar raids in the city in recent weeks.

Last month, al-Shabab fighters stormed Villa Somalia, the seat of government in Mogadishu, killing at least 11 people.

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