The Somali armed group al-Shabab has said that a group of “white Western forces” who arrived in boats attacked a house in one of its coastal bases under the cover of night, drawing gunfire from the fighters and killing one.
Foreign forces landed on the beach overnight at Barawe, about 180km south of the capital Mogadishu, and launched an assault that al-Shabab repulsed, Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, a military spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
“They targeted a house on the beach. They came from the sea but our forces were ready and we started shooting at them,” he said.
Abu Musab said British and Turkish soldiers were involved in the attack.
“We have confirmed that we injured five of them and killed one. The one who died was British. Four of the injured were British and one was Turkish. Only one of our fighters was killed,” he said.
British and Turkish government officials denied any involvement in the alleged raid.
Earlier, Al Jazeera’s Peter Greste, reporting from Mogadishu, quoted Somali government and Western intelligence sources as saying that they believed US forces were involved in the attack.
“We don’t know whether there are any non-US troops that might have been involved with this,” he said.
“The sources say there were some very high-value targets, including the leader of al-Shabab himself, known as Godane. We understand that, although the Western sources believe that one of the senior al-Shabab commanders may have been killed, they do understand that Ahmed Godane may have survived.”
Al-Shabab insisted that there was nobody of any significance in the house at the time of the attack, our correspondent said.
It was not immediately clear whether the assault was related to the attack on a Kenyan shopping mall two weeks ago, claimed by al-Shabab, in which 67 people were killed by attackers using machine guns and grenades.
A resident of Barawe town told the Associated Press news agency that heavy gunfire woke people up before dawn prayers.
A similar account was given by a government official in Mogadishu who insisted on anonymity.
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“We were awoken by heavy gunfire last night, we thought an al-Shabab base at the beach was captured,” Sumira Nur, a mother of four, told Reuters news agency from Barawe.
“We also heard sounds of shells but we do not know where they landed.”
An al-Shabab member, who gave his name as Abu Mohamed, said fighters rushed to the scene to try to capture a foreign soldier but that they were not successful.
Western navies are patrolling the waters off the Horn of Africa nation – mired in conflict for more than two decades – and have in the past launched strikes on the shore from warships.
“This does not seem to be part of a widespread offensive, any kind of increase in the tempo of military operations against al-Shabab,” Al Jazeera’s Greste said.
“The main group who is responsible for dealing with al-Shabab here is the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM.”
In September 2009, a daylight commando raid carried out by a US Navy SEALs contingent in Barawe killed six people, including Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a prominent al-Qaeda member in the region and an alleged plotter in the 1998 bombings at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 250 people.