November 15, 2011 / 5:54 AM / 8 years ago

Residents flee Somali rebel enclave after air attack

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Scores of residents fled a Somali rebel stronghold close to the capital on Monday after what appeared to be a night-time missile strike aimed at a militant base.

People in the town of Afgoye, about 30 km (20 miles) from the capital Mogadishu, heard a loud explosion late on Sunday from the direction of a known al Shabaab base, housed in former government buildings.

Residents said there had been insurgent activity in the area on Sunday amid rumours that top rebel commanders were meeting.

“I am sure there was a meeting going on in the base near the orphanage. Armoured cars and expensive 4x4s were buzzing around yesterday afternoon,” resident Osman Odowa told Reuters.

“One of the missiles struck right around there,” Odowa said from Afgoye, a strategic junction on the road leading from the capital to the south of the Horn of Africa nation.

Another resident said the rebels had sealed off the area.

Kenya, which sent hundreds of troops across its border into Somalia five weeks ago to crush the Islamist militants and has threatened air strikes on rebel enclaves, denied involvement.

“We did not carry out that attack,” Kenya army spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir told Reuters.

An al Shabaab official who declined to be named said two missiles were fired from warships off the coast and there were no casualties. It was not possible to verify his account.


The African Union (AU) said on Monday its peacekeeping force, AMISOM, would receive an extra 1,150 troops from Burundi and Djibouti by mid-December, taking the total to around 11,000 — near the 12,000 authorised by the United Nations.

The peacekeepers have prevented al Shabaab from expelling the government from its foothold in the capital. Kenya wants to dismantle the rebel network it blames for a wave of kidnappings and cross-border attacks, and the time is ripe to extend the government’s power beyond Mogadishu, the AU said.

“For the first time, we are now realistically envisioning the (government) extending its political reach and authority beyond Mogadishu,” AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra told reporters in Addis Ababa.

After a fairly smooth advance, the Kenyan forces fighting al Shabaab have camped near several rebel strongholds, but have had no serious clashes with the insurgents, and have not seized any significant bases.

It was not clear who did launch Sunday’s strike. The United States has used drones in the past to attack top al Shabaab officials. In 2008, a drone attack killed Aden Hashi Ayro, said at the time to be al Qaeda’s boss in the Horn of Africa.

A fleet of foreign naval vessels is also patrolling the strategic sealanes off Somalia, where pirates prey on commercial vessels and private yachts, holding them for ransom.

“I have already evacuated and am now passing the town of Elasha,” mother-of-five Samira Farah told Reuters, referring to the al Shabaab-controlled town 17 km from the capital. “Mogadishu is our destination.”

A column of minibuses laden with mattresses was following, she said. “Who dares to stay in a place which is a target of planes and warships?” she said.

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