Mogadishu – At least four people were killed on Thursday when heavily armed fighters from the Al-Shabaab jihadist group raided a town near Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, police said.
The attack came with the troubled country in the grip of an escalating political crisis pitting the president against the prime minister.
The attackers, armed with machine guns and RPG rocket-launchers, raided the town of Balcad, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Mogadishu, police and witnesses said.
Four people, including two members of the security forces, were killed and eight others wounded, police officer Abdullahi Mohamed told AFP by phone.
The militants targeted government security checkpoints in the early morning raid “to terrorise the public”, said Mohamed.
“The situation returned to normal now and the government forces are in full control,” he added.
Witnesses said the al-Qaeda linked jihadists managed to enter some parts of the town, which lies along a road north of the capital linking Mogadishu to rest of the country, before they were repelled.
“There was heavy fighting but the fighters later pulled back and the situation is quiet now,” said one resident, Hussein Abdikarin.
Another witness, Shamso Ali, said they were woken by heavy blasts and the sound of machine gun fire as the militants entered the town.
“We were shocked to see this happening but thanks to God, we remained at safety inside our houses until the fighting was over,” he said.
Al-Shabaab issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Refrain from ‘provocative actions’
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble are locked in a festering feud over long-delayed elections in the Horn of Africa nation.
The president, better known as Farmajo, this week announced he was suspending the premier, accusing him of trying to influence a probe into a scandal involving army-owned land.
Roble in turn accused Farmajo of an “attempted coup”.
Indirect elections for the lower house of parliament were supposed to have been completed this month but only a fraction of the 275 seats have been filled.
Relations between the two leaders have long been frosty, with the latest developments raising fresh fears among international partners that the government could be distracted from its fight against the jihadist insurgency.
The international community including the United States has voiced alarm about the crisis, with Washington calling for the rival sides to avoid “escalatory actions” and for security forces to remain neutral.
Britain’s Minister for Africa Vicky Ford said on Thursday she had spoken to Roble and voiced support for an urgent meeting to address the electoral impasse.
“All parties must refrain from provocative actions and avoid violence,” she said on Twitter.
Al-Shabaab has been waging a violent campaign against the country’s fragile government since 2007 but was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 after an offensive by an African Union force.
However the insurgents retain control of vast rural areas of Somalia, from which they frequently launch deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere against civilian, military and government targets.
The extremists last month claimed a deadly car bombing near a school in Mogadishu that killed eight people and injured a number of students.
The militants also claimed two attacks in September that together killed 17 people.
Picture: Getty Images