Fighters with the al-Shabab extremist group ambushed an African Union convoy in southern Somalia and killed at least eight soldiers on Sunday, a Somali military officer said. The attack came hours after a car bomb in the capital killed at least five people, most of them civilians, shattering a month of relative calm in Mogadishu.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab fighters attacked the convoy near Bulo-Marer town in Lower Shabelle region, Col. Muhyadin Yasin said.
Uganda’s defense ministry confirmed the attack on the multinational force, saying an unknown number of troops were killed. “A lot of damage was inflicted on the enemy,” a statement said.
The extremist group claimed that the attack killed 39 soldiers.
Al-Shabab has become the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. Despite being forced out of many cities and towns across Somalia, it continues to launch lethal attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere. It wants to oust the central government and install a strict version of Shariah law.
The extremist group maintains a presence largely in rural areas and continues to pose major challenges to the allied Somali and African Union forces as they travel between remote towns, even as the AU force plans to pull out of Somalia in the coming years and leave security to national troops.
Hundreds of African Union soldiers have been killed in recent years as al-Shabab targets their military bases as well. The extremist group also carries out deadly attacks in neighboring countries, notably Kenya, that have sent troops to support Somalia’s fragile central government.
That threat has been a factor in rising security concerns around Kenya’s presidential election next month.
Earlier Sunday, a car bomb blast near a police station in Mogadishu killed at least five people and wounded at least 13 others, police said. Al-Shabab often carries out deadly bombings against high-profile targets such as hotels and checkpoints in the capital.
The blast near Waberi police station along the busy Maka Almukarramah road may have been a suicide bomber, Capt. Mohamed Hussein said. Most of the victims were civilians.
The blast occurred amid a traffic jam while soldiers were searching cars at a nearby intersection.
Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said no such blast had occurred in the capital for a month.