MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Security forces prevented a suicide attack against a political conference in central Somalia on Thursday, killing three gunmen and the driver of a car packed with explosives, police said.
The Islamist al Shabaab group, which wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu, claimed responsibility for the raid in Adado. It also said it attacked African peacekeepers and Somali troops in southern Somalia.
Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab said the militants killed 15 African and Somali troops in the southern Gedo region. But army Captain Ibrahim Yusuf said 10 rebels were killed and only three soldiers died in the Gedo raid.
The two assaults highlight al Shabaab’s ability to launch attacks even though it has lost territory and urban strongholds since a major military offensive against began last year.
Al Shabaab has in the past stepped up the number of raids during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Wednesday.
“Operations will continue with or without Ramadan,” Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s spokesman for military operations, told Reuters. “However, it is more rewarding to operate in Ramadan.”
In Adado, al Shabaab tried to attack a conference hall where a meeting was being held on a new administration in the central region. Torn apart by years of fighting against Islamists and between clans, Somalia wants to set up a federal system.
“A suicide car bomb rammed into the gate of the hall and three armed men stormed in but, fortunately, AMISOM troops killed them before they could enter,” said Major Nur Ahmed, a police officer, referring to the African Union force AMISOM.
Local leader Hussein Farah said the gunmen were killed in a brief clash before entering the hall, which was guarded by Ethiopian troops with AMISOM and Somali forces. Police said the car exploded outside the gate after the soldiers shot at it.
An AMISOM and Somali army offensive last year pushed al Shabaab out of major strongholds, but the group still controls some rural areas. It make regular attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, which also has forces with AMISOM.
Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Larry King