Mogadishu // Dozens of soldiers were killed when Al Shabab insurgents overran an African Union base in Somalia on Friday.
Witnesses described intense fighting which left corpses strewn on the ground.
“The fighting was the heaviest ever around this area. The Shabab fighters took full control of the base and killed many soldiers,” said Alinur Mohamed, an elder in Lego village, 100 kilometres northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
Witnesses said they had seen as many as 50 bodies but the reports were impossible to independently confirm. Some bodies had been reportedly beheaded.
The military outpost was manned by about 100 Burundian soldiers who are part of the 22,000-strong Amisom – the African Union force in Somalia.
Residents said the dawn raid started with a suicide bomber driving a car loaded with explosives into the entrance of the base, before dozens of militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades began their assault.
Another elder, Ahmed Bulle, said the Shabab militants were later seen looting the base, loading supplies on to trucks.
“The Shabab militants took control the area completely – the death toll could be more than 50,” he added. “There are many dead bodies, most of them in military uniforms.”
Amisom confirmed the attack but gave details as to casualties.
A Shabab spokesman claimed the militants had taken control of the base killing “dozens”, and had raised their flag and seized weapons.
“The Black Islamic flag is flying over the main base of Amisom in Lego this morning and the dead bodies of the enemy are scattered around the area, the mujaheddin fighters have taken all their military supplies,” said Mohamed Abu-Yahya, a Shabab commander.
The Al Qaeda affiliate is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s western-backed government which is propped up and protected by Amisom.
Under military pressure at home, Shabab is increasingly turning its attention to Kenya where it has launched a string of recent deadly assaults.
The extremist militants commonly step up their attacks during Ramadan.
* Agence France-Presse