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Somalia's al-Shabab militant group kills Ethiopian soldiers

Somalia's al-Shabab militant group has killed 30 Ethiopian soldiers after ramming a suicide car bomb into an African Union military base in the war-torn east African country. It is its first attack on the AU there.

The al Qaeda-linked militants attacked the base in Halgan in the Hiran region, al-Shabab said in a statement distributed on its Telegram messaging channel. The group claimed it had killed 43 in the attack, a figure Ethiopia has questioned.

Mohamed Mohamud, a military officer in the town of Halgan told the news agency Associated Press that 30 Ethiopian troops had been killed in the attack. The officer said a bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle early on Thursday at the gates of the Ethiopian military base before gunmen entered the base.

Conflicted messages

Ethiopian communications spokesperson Getachew Reda told DW that the attack was repelled and that 101 of the attackers had been killed.

"There was an attempt by al-Shabab to attack a base in Halgan[...], but Ethiopian forces repulsed it and also decimated the entire contingent that attempted to attack Ethiopian forces," Reda said. "So far Ethiopian forces have killed 101 al-Shabab terrorists and captured and destroyed heavy armaments and light weapons. Their claim to have inflicted casualties was entirely fabricated."

Witnesses reported hearing a huge explosion followed by heavy exchanges of shots shortly before dawn. Gunfire continued for at least an hour after the initial blast.

Shabab uses "swarming" tactics

Al-Shabab was forced out of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, five years ago and now carries out regular attacks on officials, Somali security forces and the African Union's AMISOM personnel in violent efforts to topple the government and impose its own strict version of Islam on the east African country.

The group launched this style of "swarming" attack a year ago and has since overrun forward operating bases manned by Burundian troops in Lego in June, Ugandan troops in Janale in September and Kenyan troops in El Adde in January.

African Union under attack

The African Union's AMISOM force is made up of troops from African nations supporting Somalia's Western-backed government and army against the al Qaeda-linked militants.

"We understand there are casualties on both sides. AU forces fought back fiercely and repulsed al Shabab," Somali military Maj. Abdifatah Elmi told Reuters news agency, without giving figures. "Several residents were injured by stray bullets."

The troop-contributing countries usually announce casualties in such cases.

"Our fighters stormed the Halgan base of AMISOM," al-Shabab's military operations spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters. He said the group used a suicide car bomb and then militants had exchanged fire with Ethiopian troops there. Several al Shabab fighters were killed in the gunfight.

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jbh/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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