Gunmen attacked the African Union’s main base in the capital, Mogadishu, leading to an exchange of gunfire between militants and soldiers on Thursday, an official and a witness said.
Somali militant group al-Shabab said they were responsible for the attack and were targeting a Christmas party at the base near the capital’s airport, which also houses U.N. offices, among others.
Gunfire and explosions could be heard, and the militants may have entered the base, said Mohamed Abdi, a policeman at the capital’s airport, which shares a fence with the AU base.
Ali Abdullahi, who lives near the airport, said AU troops took up position as gunfire could be heard from inside the base for AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia. All roads leading to the airport were sealed following the shootout, he said. Details on casualties were not yet available.
AU troops are bolstering Somalia’s weak government against an insurgency from the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu during the years 2007 to 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital city by African Union forces. The militants then also lost control of the port city of Kismayo, crippling one of its major income generators. Despite those setbacks, the group continues to carry out devastating suicide and gunfire attacks.
The United Nations representative to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, condemned the attack on Twitter, saying it took place at the Mogadishu airport.
Somalia has been trying to rebuild following years of political instability and civil strife since 1991, when the dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power.