Somalia's al-Shabab rebels have carried out a major attack against intelligence headquarters and a detention facility in central Mogadishu.
The assault came a day after Somalia’s national army and African Union forces said they had captured an al-Shabab stronghold as part of a joint offensive aimed at capturing key ports and cutting off a key source of revenue for the rebels.
In Sunday’s attack, police and witnesses said a car bomb was detonated outside the National Intelligence Centre and was followed by a raid by gunmen disguised in national army uniforms – a style of attack bearing all the hallmarks of the Islamist al-Shabab militia.
“There were seven attackers. One of them blew himself in the car while the six others were killed by the security forces,” an interior ministry spokesperson told reporters, adding three members of the security forces and a civilian were also killed.
“The attack is over now and the attackers have failed to achieve their goal aimed at interrupting the Indian Ocean operation,” he said, referring to the current AU and government ground offensive.
Al-Shabab spokesperson Abdulaziz Abu Musab confirmed the militants carried out the attack against what he described as a “torture” facility. He claimed the militants had managed to kill 10 security officers and free several prisoners.
“We killed 10 enemy soldiers who were trained by the West how torture prisoners. Some of the prisoners escaped,” he said.
The intelligence facility, which contains a high-security prison, is located close the Villa Somalia, the complex that houses the office of Somalia’s internationally-backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The Villa Somalia was hit by a similar attack in July when a car bomb was detonated and al-Shabab fighters stormed the complex before blowing themselves up.
The presidential palace was also attacked in a similar fashion in February while the Parliament complex was hit by a coordinated bomb and gun attack in May.
Al-Shabab rebels have continued to target key areas of government or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities – who are backed by the African Union’s 22 000-strong AMISOM force – that they are winning the war against the Islamist fighters.
On Saturday the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) said it had captured the town of Bulomarer, some 16km southwest of Mogadishu.
The town was the scene of an attempted raid by French commandos in January 2013 to free a secret agent being held hostage. The bid failed and resulted in the death of two French soldiers and the hostage.
Deployed in Somalia in 2007, AMISOM has made a series of advances in the past three years. A new offensive launched on Saturday targets the al-Shabab’s lucrative charcoal trade by cutting off access to the Indian Ocean coastline.
Charcoal, which is mainly exported to Gulf nations, generates at least $25-million a year for al-Shabab, according to UN estimates. – Sapa-AFP