Colonel Muse Hassan, the Somali military commander in the Middle Shabelle region, told CNN that heavily armed Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked Burundi’s base in El-Baraf, some 160km north of the capital Mogadishu, from different directions early Tuesday.
Hassan said a suicide car bomber entered the main gates of the base, allowing fighters to enter the camp, where they engaged in intense firefights with AU soldiers for about an hour. The base is located along the main highway that connects Mogadishu with the northern parts of the country.
In a statement posted on its affiliated websites, Al-Shabaab claimed that its fighters killed 59 soldiers when they took control of the base, but authorities have not confirmed those claims or the number of possible casualties. It is the second time the camp has been raided by the terror group this year.
“This morning we woke up to a huge explosion and heavy gunfire at the Burundi army base in El-Baraf, which was attacked from several directions. We don’t know how many soldiers were killed, but we saw smoke and flames,” Hawo said. Ali, a local resident, who spoke to CNN by phone.
CNN has reached out to the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), formally known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), for comment on the attack.
The attack comes as Somalia swore in a new parliament on April 14 and is expected to hold presidential elections later this year, after more than a year of delays due to the political crisis. No specific date has been set for the election.
The political situation in the country has been further complicated by the power struggle between Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, which has contributed to the delay of the elections.
Al-Shabaab, a Somali group that the United States designated as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, has been fighting for years to topple the central government and establish rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. It has continued to carry out frequent attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere, despite efforts by the government and the international community to stop it.