A suicide bomber in Somalia has rammed a car packed full of explosives into a hotel in a southern town, killing several people, days after it was recaptured from al-Shabab fighters, in an attacked claimed by the armed group.
The blast in Buuloburde late on Monday is the latest in a string of attacks launched in apparent retaliation to a new offensive by African Union (AU) troops seeking to capture bases from al-Shabab.
“A suicide bomber drove his car packed with explosives into the hotel, and there was a big explosion, and then gunfire afterwards,” said resident Moalim Mohamed Adan, saying eight people were reportedly killed by the gunmen.
Security Official Sulieman Adam told the AFP news agency: “Four of the attackers were also killed.”
Speaking to the Reuters news agency on Tuesday, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, said: “First, a mujahid [holy warrior] with a car bomb entered the hotel, followed by two well-armed fighters who sprayed bullets.”
He said 32 soldiers were killed. In the past, al-Shabab has exaggerated numbers while officials have downplayed losses.
Hussein Nur, another resident of Bulobarde town, said the bomb exploded at the Camalow hotel, then troops and fighters fought for several hours. His line cut before he could provide further details.
“Most of the troops and civilians inside the hotel died or were wounded. We couldn’t count how many died because AU and Somali forces swarmed all over the place,” Nur told Reuters news agency.
AU soldiers, who are fighting al-Shabab alongside Somali government troops, were reported to have been staying in the hotel that was attacked.
The attack followed an assault on a military convoy near the capital Mogadishu, also on Monday, which killed four Somali soldiers, an army captain said.
The fighters have responded to the AU campaign with more assaults and have threatened attacks on contributors to the African force, such as Kenya and Uganda, two neighbours who have previously suffered deadly attacks calimed by al-Shabab.
Both nations have warned of threats and Kenya detained two would-be bombers this week.
Al-Shabab, which is seeking to impose its version of Islamic law, was driven out of bases in the capital more than two years ago, but has continued to control swathes of countryside and smaller towns, which it uses as launchpads to strike.
Regional nations and the West worry that, unless al-Shabab is denied the use of such territory, it will be able to plan strikes well beyond Somalia’s borders, such as the attack on a Kenyan shopping mall last year that killed at least 67 people.
Al-Shabab said it carried out that attack to punish Kenya for sending troops to Somalia. Kenya said it had arrested two suspected al-Shabab fighters on Monday with bombs that might have targeted the coast which is popular with tourists.
Meanwhile in Uganda, where al-Shabab killed scores of people watching the football World Cup final on television in 2010, police said they had intelligence that the group was planning to attack fuel trucks in transit, or at fuel depots or stations in the country.
Uganda imports fuel and other merchandise through Kenya’s port city of Mombasa.
Authorities in Kampala said they would now escort trucks in some areas.