Al Shabaab fighters in Somalia kill at least 7 in attack near capital

MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Fighters from Somali militant group al Shabaab attacked a town north of the capital, Mogadishu on Thursday, killing at least seven people as they clashed with government security forces, a resident and police said.

The attack came amid a political dispute between the president and the Somali prime minister which, according to his international partners, diverted the government from fighting the insurgents.

Police and residents of Balad, 30 km (18 miles) north of Mogadishu, said fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group attacked and overrun government forces guarding a bridge at the entrance to the town early. the morning.

“We were in a mosque praying when a violent exchange of gunshots took place on the bridge. Al Shabaab therefore captured the city, overtaking the soldiers on the bridge, ”Hassan Nur, a trader from Balad, a farming town that links Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region to Lower Shabelle, told Reuters by phone.

“There were few police forces in the city. (The police) were missing. When the shooting started, people ran to their homes. I counted five dead soldiers and two civilian women, ”he said.

Police captain Farah Ali said the fighters stayed in the town briefly after the attack, but then left.

“Al Shabaab did not come to our post but captured the whole city in the fighting and left without patrolling,” he told Reuters.

“I understand that there are about eight dead, including soldiers. “

Al Shabaab aims to overthrow the government and impose a strict version of Islamic law. He often carries out bombings against government targets but also against civilians. It also targets African Union peacekeeping troops.

Somalia, which has had only a limited central government since 1991, is trying to rebuild itself with the help of the United Nations.

The United Nations and various countries have urged its Prime Minister, Mohammed Hussein Roble, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to settle their dispute, which has raised fears of conflict.

The president tried on Monday to suspend the powers of the prime minister for alleged corruption. The prime minister called the move an attempted coup and called on all security forces to take orders from his office, not the president.

Report by Abdi Sheikh; Written by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Robert Birsel