The African Union condemned an attack on peacekeeping forces in Somalia by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, which claimed dozens of Burundian soldiers were killed.
The continental body didn’t provide a death toll for the attack, while the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia that was targeted in the raid on Tuesday didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Radio Andalus, a pro-al-Shabaab broadcaster, said in a report monitored in the capital, Mogadishu, on Wednesday that 173 Burundian soldiers died in the assault.
If confirmed, the death toll would be the biggest since at least January 2016, when an attack on Kenyan forces at the El Adde military camp in southwestern Somalia left dozens of soldiers dead. Tuesday’s raid came after an African Union peacekeeping force that’s been active in Somalia since 2007 restructured and was renamed ATMIS last month.
“The chairperson pays tribute to the Burundian peacekeepers who lost their lives helping to bring peace and stability to Somalia,” African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement. “This heinous attack will not lessen the determination of ATMIS forces.”
The attack, which was planned weeks in advance, was among the most serious to be staged since the AU troops arrived in Somalia, according to Hussein Moalim, the director of the Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based security think-tank.
“Al Shabaab mobilized hundreds of fighters in the Shabelle Middle Region, but no one knew what base would be attacked,” he said by phone. The militants closed all the supply routes to the base and by the time helicopter gunships arrived to support the AU forces it had been overrun and dozens of soldiers had been killed, while others who fled on foot were captured, he said.
Dini Roble Ahmed, a police spokesman in the Hirshabelle state, said six civilians died and 25 others were injured in the attack.
“There are no words strong enough to condemn the terrorist attack against the Burundian contingent of ATMIS,” Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye said on Twitter.