Gunfire erupted near Mogadishu’s airport Wednesday as security forces clashed with armed men attempting to storm a heavily fortified area of the Somali capital, witnesses said, with Al-Shabaab insurgents claiming responsibility.
Witnesses reported hearing heavy gunfire while public broadcaster Somali National Television (SNTV) said on Twitter that “security forces are attending a terrorist incident at one of the main gates of Mogadishu’s Halane compound.”
The airport complex houses the UN, aid agencies, foreign missions, and contractors, as well as the headquarters of the African Union military mission, AMISOM.
“A member of the security forces was killed and I saw several others including AMISOM peacekeepers wounded in the attack,” Hussein Ismail, a construction worker at the airport, said.
Officials told AFP that Somali forces had killed two gunmen and were in the process of pursuing any remaining attackers and securing the area.
“Two gunmen were killed and further clearance operation is still ongoing,” police officer Ahmed Hassan said.
Ahmed Dahir, an employee of a hotel inside the complex, earlier said “the movement of transport along the road inside the airport is stopped.”
Al-Shabaab, which has been waging a violent insurgency against the country’s fragile government for over a decade, said it carried out the attack.
The Al-Qaeda-linked militants frequently target civilian, military, and government targets in the capital and outside.
The jihadists have previously claimed responsibility for mortar attacks on the airport complex, including in March last year when six rounds landed within its perimeter.
In 2020, the UN said several mortar rounds had landed in the vicinity of the UN and AMISOM compound near the airport.
Nine people, including three AMISOM soldiers, were wounded in a similar mortar attack targeting the complex in 2019.
Somalia's #Mogadishu airport is under attack. Armed attackers are inside the airport. Fighting with security forces ongoing. All flights cancelled. The airport compound has offices of foreign mission too. AMISOM to end in #Somalia on 31 March. pic.twitter.com/M0JXHHEGgV
— Sajid Nadeem (@sajid_nadeem78) March 23, 2022
Somalia has seen a spate of attacks in recent weeks as the country hobbles through a long-delayed election process.
The president and prime minister have been at loggerheads over the vote, which is more than a year late and has been marred by violence.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, tried to extend his rule by decree when his term expired in February 2021 without elections taking place.
The move sparked furious protests and street battles in Mogadishu, prompting Farmajo to ask his prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, to broker a consensus on a way forward.
Disagreements between the two men, and feuds with Somalia’s states, have hindered progress.
After countless delays, the lower house election is now due to be completed on March 31, paving the way for lawmakers to pick a president.
The impasse has worried Somalia’s international backers, who fear it distracts from the fight against Al-Shabaab.
Somalia’s key foreign backer, the United States, has already imposed travel sanctions on key political figures for undermining the electoral process.
The jihadists controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when they were pushed out by AMISOM troops, but still hold territory in the countryside.