Four civilians and a soldier were killed when heavily-armed al-Shabaab fighters attacked a Somali army base north of the capital, military sources and witnesses said Thursday.
Witnesses said dozens of al-Shabaab members, arriving aboard four pickup trucks, took part in the attack late Wednesday, December 11 on Hilweyne base 25 km (15 miles) north of Mogadishu, while a soldier said there had been hundreds of assailants.
Al-Shabaab fighters took over the camp for a while before pulling out.
“After [a] tactical retreat by the armed forces, the military is back to the camp now and the situation is under control,” said Mohamed Salad, a Somali military commander in the nearby town of Balcad.
“We have lost one soldier in the fighting, but the terrorists also killed four other civilians including two women who were running small businesses near the camp.”
Hussein Luqman, a witness, said: “There was heavy exchange of gunfire which continued for more than 30 minutes.
“The Shabab fighters … stormed the base after attacking from several directions using technicals,” Luqman said, referring to pickup trucks.
“Two women who used to sell food and other items to the soldiers in the camp were among the dead.”
Several other witnesses told AFP that they saw fire at the base after the attackers set some of the soldiers’ belongings and two trucks ablaze.
The Shabaab claimed the attack, saying they had killed four soldiers before overrunning the base.
Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government. The Somali army, which largely relies on African Union Mission in Somalia forces for military support, is regularly targeted.
The group was routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong AMISOM mission, and has had to abandon most of its strongholds, but it still controls vast rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.
On December 10, three civilians and two members of the security forces were killed in a Shabaab attack on a Mogadishu hotel. All five assailants died, according to the police.
VIDEO: Somali security forces retake Mogadishu hotel from Shabaab militants, at least 10 dead
With reporting from AFP