Somali Shebab suicide commandos attack newly captured town

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3/18/2014 4:40:03 PM -

Mogadishu (AFP) - Somalia's Al-Qaeda linked Shebab attacked a hotel crowded with army officers in a southern town days after African Union troops celebrated its capture from the Islamists, security officials said Tuesday.

A suicide bomber rammed a car packed full of explosives into the hotel, with gunmen then attacking, killing at least eight people, residents said.

The attack is the latest by the Shebab, launched in apparent retaliation to a new offensive to root them out of the troubled country.

Troops from neighbouring countries, which also face attacks on their own soil, are also fighting the Shebab in Somalia.

"There was a suicide attack involving terrorists at a hotel in Buulo Burde," security official Sulieman Adam told AFP, of the attack that took place in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

"Four of the attackers were also killed," he added.

AU envoy to Somalia, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, condemned the "cowardly attack" and confirmed that both AU troops from Djibouti and Somali troops had been killed, but without giving exact numbers.

AU soldiers, who are fighting the Shebab alongside Somali government troops, captured the small town from the Islamists last week.

Shebab spokesman Abdiaziz Abu Musab claimed responsibility for the attack, boasting of killing senior officials and telling AFP that the Shebab were still in control of parts of the town.

Residents said that at least eight people were killed in the attack, but there was no official toll.

"A suicide bomber drove his car packed with explosives into the hotel, and there was a big explosion, and then gunfire afterwards," said resident Moalim Mohamed Adan.

Abdirahman Qalafe, who lives in a nearby village, confirmed the toll of eight, adding he had seen a military helicopter evacuate the wounded.

"The helicopter landed and took around 11 wounded people away," he said.

The Shebab also claimed responsibility for a car bomb on Monday targeting an AU convoy just outside the Somali capital, boasting of killing seven including three foreigners, although the AU force said there were no casualties.

- Uganda and Kenya threatened -

"These are hit and run attacks... They are losing ground, but are trying to terrorise the people," AU force spokesman Ali Houmed said.

The UN-backed AU force this month launched a fresh offensive against Shebab bases, with the gunmen largely fleeing ahead of the assault, only to later stage guerrilla attacks.

UN envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said the offensive would be "the most significant and geographically extensive military advance" since AU troops started operations in 2007.

But Kay also warned the security situation had "deteriorated" in the last three months.

Shebab fighters once controlled most of southern and central Somalia but withdrew from fixed positions in Mogadishu two years ago.

Recent Shebab attacks have targeted key areas of government or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities that they are winning the war.

Both Uganda and Kenya, key contributors of troops to the AU force, have warned of the threat of fresh Shebab attacks in their own countries.

Kampala on Tuesday said Shebab insurgents were planning to use fuel tankers as bombs, while Nairobi on Monday said it had arrested two men in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, thwarting a "massive" car bomb attack.

The Islamists have carried out major attacks in both countries in retaliation for their actions in Somalia in the past.

Shebab bombers killed at least 76 people in Uganda's capital in 2010, while Kenya is approaching six-months since suicide commandos stormed the upmarket Westgate mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 as they hurled grenades and shot shoppers.

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