Friday, December 26, 2014

Shabab Fighters Ambush Base of Peacekeepers in Somalia
New York Times
DEC. 25, 2014

MOGADISHU, Somalia — A Christmas meal at the African Union peacekeeping base here was ambushed Thursday by Islamist gunmen and suicide bombers, including some dressed as Somali soldiers, turning a festive respite into a bloody battleground.

At least three soldiers, one civilian and five attackers were killed, the African Union Mission in Somalia said, and three attackers were captured after the gunfight at the Halane base camp near the airport in Mogadishu, the capital.

A group of eight assailants, members of the militant group Shabab, Somalia’s Qaeda affiliate, sneaked into the base and evaded security just as officers were eating, said Col. Ali Houmed, a spokesman for the mission.

“The terrorists, some of whom were disguised in Somali National Army (SNA) uniforms, breached the base camp around lunch hour and attempted to gain access to critical infrastructure,” the mission said in a statement. It commended the base defenders for the quick response “in quelling this reprehensible attack.”

Colonel Houmed said in an interview that Somali and African Union security troops had killed three of the assailants, and two others died when they detonated their explosives. The others tried to hide on the base premises but were surrounded and taken into custody.

The base houses United Nations offices and some foreign embassies. Residents nearby reported having heard heavy explosions and sporadic gunfire inside the base.

It seemed clear that the assailants had picked an opportune moment for the ambush, appearing to know in advance that security might be less stringent than usual on Christmas Day. Their use of military disguises also helped to initially fool the base guards.

Asked about the security breach, Colonel Houmed said he was asking himself the same question.

“It’s another story, and an investigation will be launched,” he said.

The Shabab claimed responsibility for the assault, saying their fighters had targeted the Christmas festivities at the base in part to avenge the assassination of their leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in an American airstrike three months ago.

Once one of Al Qaeda’s most powerful and feared affiliates, ruling big swaths of Somalia, the Shabab have been in retreat for months, pushed back by African Union peacekeepers, defections and an increasingly hostile populace. The airstrike in September that killed Mr. Godane left the group in further disarray.

But the Shabab remain dangerous, unpredictable and bold, known for audacious and chilling attacks. Their fighters routinely target the Somali government in Mogadishu. The group has also sought to terrorize neighboring Kenya, where many Somali refugees have fled over the years.

This month, Shabab attackers seized dozens of Kenyan miners, separated the Christians from the Muslims and executed the Christians, the Kenyan authorities said. Last month Shabab attackers hijacked a Kenyan bus, pulled out the Christian passengers and killed them.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

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