Al-Shabaab says they targeted militants from local sub-clan – Copyright AFP Ishara S. KODIKARA
Militants from the Islamist rebel group Al-Shabaab have killed at least 19 civilians in a nighttime attack in central Somalia, clan leaders and local authorities said on Saturday.
The attack comes two weeks after Al-Shabaab, a longtime insurgent against the Somali state, besieged a hotel in the capital Mogadishu for 30 hours, killing 21 and injuring 117.
Sources said at least eight vehicles were traveling on the road between the towns of Beledweyne and Maksaas when the rebels intercepted and burned them, and the passengers were killed near the village of Afar Irdud on the night from Friday to Saturday.
“Terrorists killed innocent civilians who were traveling … last night. We don’t have an exact number of victims, but 19 corpses were collected,” Abdulahi Hared, a local clan elder, told AFP.
“They still collect corpses, including women and children. There may be more than 20,” said Ali Ceyte, governor of the Hiran region where the attack took place.
“It was a terrible attack that has never happened in our region. They were innocent civilians who did nothing to deserve this,” added another local clan leader, Mohamed Abdirahman.
Al-Shabaab said in a statement that they targeted militants from a local sub-clan who had recently assisted government forces and that they killed 20 “militiamen and those who were transporting materials for them”, destroying nine of their vehicles.
In late August, local militants and security forces recaptured several villages in the region from Al-Shabaab.
Ali Goodlawe, the president of the state of Hirshabel, where the attack took place, issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the victims and promising to continue “cleansing operations” from al-Shabaab in the region.
“The only way we have is to unite to fight and free our country from them. I urge the public not to despair,” said his colleague in Jubaland state, Ahmed Madobe.
– “Total War” –
The al-Qaeda-linked group has been fighting the internationally backed Somali federal government since 2007.
He was expelled from the country’s main cities, including Mogadishu in 2011, but continues to pose a serious security threat in large areas of the countryside.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in May after a protracted political crisis, vowed to wage an “all out war” to destroy al-Shabaab after the attack on a hotel in Mogadishu.
The bloody siege drew international condemnation from partners including the US, UK, Turkey and the UN.
After the election of Mohamud, President Joe Biden announced that he would restore the US military presence in Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab.
The Pentagon recommended the move, deeming Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.