Four civilians and a soldier were killed when heavily-armed Somali jihadists attacked an army base north of the capital, military sources and witnesses said Thursday.
Witnesses said dozens of al-Shabaab members, arriving aboard four pickup trucks, took part in the attack late Wednesday on Hilweyne base 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Mogadishu, while a soldier said there had been hundreds of assailants.
The jihadists, whose organisation is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, took over the camp for a while before pulling out.
“After (a) tactical retreat by the armed forces, the military is back to the camp now and the situation is under control,” said Mohamed Salad, a Somali military commander in the nearby town of Balcad.
“We have lost one soldier in the fighting, but the terrorists also killed four other civilians including two women who were running small businesses near the camp.”
Hussein Luqman, a witness, said: “There was a heavy exchange of gunfire which continued for more than 30 minutes.
“The Shabab fighters… stormed the base after attacking from several directions using technicals,” Luqman said, referring to pickup trucks.
“Two women who used to sell food and other items to the soldiers in the camp were among the dead.”
Several other witnesses told AFP that they saw fire at the base after the attackers set some of the soldiers’ belongings and two trucks ablaze.
The Shabaab claimed the attack, saying they had killed four soldiers before overrunning the base.
The group was driven out of Mogadishu by government forces backed by 20,000 African Union peacekeepers in 2011.
But they still control large areas of the countryside, using it as a springboard for carrying attacks on government and civilian targets.
On December 10, three civilians and two members of the security forces were killed in a Shabaab attack on a Mogadishu hotel. All five assailants died, according to the police.