Al Shabaab Militants Kill Dozens in Storming of Military Base in Somalia’s Puntland

A soldier walks in midst of rubbles caused by explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia, 17 May 2017. Photo: Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab group militants have killed dozens in an attack against a military base in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Northeast Somalia.
  • Al Shabaab attacks in Puntland are relatedly rare but the storming of the town of Af Urur has been a major offensive by the militants.
  • Al Shabaab killed elderly people, women, and children in the town, according to the Puntland authorities who have vowed retaliation.
  • In Northern Somalia, the al-Qaeda affiliate co-exists with former fighters of its own who have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorist group Al Shabaab have killed 38 people in the storming of a military base in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Northeast Somalia.

Islamist militant group Al Shabaab still controls large territories in the southern third of Somalia after it was pushed out of the capital Mogadishu by Somali and African Union forces several years ago.

Militants who split off from Al Shabaab and declared allegiance to the ISIS terrorist group (“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”) are reported to have emerged in Northern Somalia, including foreign fighters.

Somalia has been in disarray since the collapse of the dictatorship of its leader Siad Barre in 1991. Since the 1990s, it has been deemed an example of a failed state in which the central government in Mogadishu has had little ontrol over most of the country’s, much of which saw the rise of powerful warlords involved in smuggling and piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Some of Somalia’s regions, most notably, Somaliland and Puntland in the north, remain largely  autonomous from the government in Mogadishu, which has proper control over only a relatively small region around the capital. While Puntland is seen as a pro-government territory, Somaliland in the northwest has proclaimed its independence.

In April, Somalia’s recently elected President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmajo, who is also a US citizen, declared a new offensive against Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for major attacks in other countries in East Africa, including the Garissa University attack in neighboring Kenya in April 2015 which claimed 148 lives.

In February 2016, Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bombing of an airliner which had to make an emergency landing shortly after taking off from Mogadishu.

The 22,000 troops of the African Union stationed in Somalia are scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2020, beginning in 2018.

Because of the ongoing civil conflict and a drought, Somalia is presently facing a devastating famine crisis, while its coast has recently seen the return of Somali pirates to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for the first time since 2012.

Attack in Puntland

Al Shabaab militants killed at total of 38 people, mostly soldiers, in an attack on a military base in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region on Thursday, an army officer said, as cited by Reuters.

The killings took place when the Islamists attacked and took over the town of Af Urur.

However, Al Shabaab itself claimed that it had killed 61 soldiers in the attack.

“Now we confirm 38 people, mostly soldiers, died and 18 others were wounded. I believe some were captured alive and taken away,” Major Mohamed Abdi, a Puntland military officer, told Reuters.

“Numerous, heavily armed Al Shabaab fighters attacked us from every direction and after hours of fierce battle I was among those who ran for their lives,” he added.

Bari regional Governor Yusuf Mohamed told Reuters the Puntland military had recaptured the town.

The assault came days after Puntland sentenced to death five Al Shabaab members arrested on April 26 as they drove a vehicle carrying barrels packed with explosives into Bosaso, Puntland’s capital.

Af Urur lies about 100 km (60 miles) south of Bosaso, near the Galgala Mountains, an area controlled by al Shabaab. Its fighters have attacked and captured the town several times.

“Al Shabaab fighters killed local residents of the town including elders, women and children. It is the norm of Al Shabaab to kill civilians when they are defeated,” a statement from the Puntland president’s office said.

“Al Shabaab will regret killing civilians. We shall eliminate the fighters who hide in Puntland areas,” it added.

Differing Numbers

The al Qaeda-linked Islamist group said it had killed 61 soldiers after overrunning the military base.

Abdiasis Abu Musab, a spokesman for al Shabaab, said the military had not recaptured Af Urur by force.

“We just left it peacefully after killing 61 soldiers and capturing 16 military cars,” he said.

It is noted that Al Shabaab more often launches attacks on the capital Mogadishu and other regions controlled by Somalia’s federal government as it tries to chase out African Union peacekeers, bring down the Somali government, and impose Sharia law.

Puntland in Northeast Somalia receives US assistance, and is usually rarely a target for Al- Shabaab.

In April, the US announced it was going to send several dozens of regular troops to Somalia for the first time since 18 US special force personnel were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu back in 1993.

Under President Bill Clinton, the US pulled out its forces from the country after in 1993 two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, and the bodies of the killed American soldiers were dragged in the streets.

The events from the Battle of Mogadishu in October 1993 became world famous, largely because of their recreation in the 2001 Oscar-winning film “Black Hawk Down”.

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