Somalia’s al-Shabab fighters have put on display the dead bodies of more than 70 African Union peacekeepers they say they killed in the country’s capital, Mogadishu.
The troops, reportedly Burundian soldiers, were killed on Thursday following a battle with al-Shabab, according to Abu Omar, a commander of the anti-government Islamist group.
“We can confirm that more than 150 Burundian soldiers were killed in the battle. We can confirm to you that 76 of the bodies are currently in our custody and the battle lasted for about six hours,” he told Al Jazeera.
Displaying the bodies in the dust to reporters, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, an al-Shabab spokesman, said: “We have killed more than 70 of the enemy soldiers today … We have inflicted heavy losses on them and you can see their dead bodies.”
The bodies were put on display in the al-Shabab-controlled El-Maan area, 18km from Mogadishu.
Witnesses say the bodies were not Somalis and most were dressed in military uniforms.
“I have seen the largest number of soldiers killed in a battle, I have counted 63 Burundian soldiers, all of them dead, the Shabab brought them on trucks to Alamada,” Hasan Yunus, a witness, said.
“Some of the dead bodies were dragged along by angry residents.”
Photographs showed long lines of at least 20 bodies dressed in military uniform laid out in the sand, surrounded by a large crowd with their faces covered.
‘Fell into an ambush’
Al-Shabab’s Omar told Al Jazeera that the battle started when “the Burundian crusaders supported by some of the militia from the regime attacked an area in Dayniile which also has a large population of innocent civilians”.
“First the Burundian troops began by indiscriminately shelling the area with mortars and rockets whereby dozens of innocent civilians lost their lives as a result and hundreds more were injured. Shortly after the shelling had stopped, the Burundian troops began to move towards the district of Dayniile.
“We were informed of their preparations and movements by our reconnaissance teams, so the mujahideen [al-Shabab] was laying in wait for them. And when they advanced, along with their tanks and armoured personnel carriers, they fell into an ambush and that’s where the battle began,” he added.
Heavy fighting was reported in the northwest Dayniile district throughout Thursday, but Somali government officials had earlier said they were moving alongside AU troops “towards the final strongholds of the terrorist militants”.
Battles began before dawn in Mogadishu as AU-backed Somali forces advanced on holdout al-Shabab positions, officials and witnesses said.
African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) troops and government forces have been pushing into remaining al-Shabab areas in Mogadishu, after the bulk of the fighters abandoned their fixed positions in August.
Burundian troops with the 9,000 strong AMISOM force control the sector closest to the fighting and are believed to have led the assault. Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the AU force and control other sections of Mogadishu.
Despite their pullout from much from the capital, al-Shabab has not wavered from its aim to topple the government. The fighters still control large swathes of southern and central Somalia, and remain a serious security threat.
Meanwhile, al-Shabab fighters in southern Somalia are also facing assaults from Kenyan troops and tanks backed by air strikes since Kenya declared war on the group and confirmed it had moved its forces into Somalia on Sunday.