MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Al Shabaab militants attacked an African Union (AU) base in southern Somalia early on Tuesday, the Islamist group and residents said, with unconfirmed reports that dozens of AU soldiers were killed.
The al Qaeda-aligned militants said one of their fighters rammed a car bomb into the base and then gunmen poured inside the facility run by the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMISOM.
Al Shabaab said 50 African peacekeepers were killed in the attack on Janale base, about 90 km (55 miles) south of the capital, Mogadishu. In the past, the group has exaggerated the number of AU troops it has killed in attacks and officials have played down losses.
"Now Janale base of AMISOM is under our control," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.
AMISOM and government officials could not be reached for comment but nearby residents confirmed the attack.
"After morning prayers we heard a big explosion followed by heavy gunfire in the AMISOM base. We do not have further details as we are indoors," resident Ahmed Olow said.
The latest assault highlights al Shabaab's ability to launch attacks even though it has lost territory and urban strongholds since a major military offensive against them began last year.
Al Shabaab, which wants to topple a Western-backed government and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam on Somalia, has also carried out attacks against neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda as punishment for sending troops to Somalia as part of the AU peacekeeping force.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Paul Tait)