(Medeshi)- Islamist al-Shabab militants killed dozens including a regional official and local police commander in an attack on a government convoy in southern Somalia on Wednesday, officials and the group said.
The insurgents launched attacks on the army convoy near the village of Tulo-Barwao in the southwestern Gedo district of Somalia, a region bordering Ethiopia and Kenya, sparking intense gun battles.
The al Qaeda-allied group frequently launches attacks on officials in its bid to topple the Western-backed government and impose its strict interpretation of Islam on the nation, which is struggling to rebuild after two decades of war.
Government officials put the death toll at 32 al-Shabab fighters and 11 government soldiers, while the Shabab said the only casualties were 19 government troops. Local elder Abdulahi Halane said around 30 people were killed in total.
"The fighting was very heavy and 32 enemy Shabab fighters, including senior commanders, were killed," said Nur Mohamud Burale, a government official. "We lost 11 soldiers, and 16 others were wounded." Al-Shabab often cites higher numbers for those killed than official figures.
The group now controls increasingly smaller patches of territory since an African Union force and Somali troops drove it out of major strongholds in an offensive launched last year, targeting Shabab strongholds in southern Somalia.
Senior Somali police officer Elmi Nur said that police "have been launching operations to eliminate al-Shabab from the region. More police and military were sent after the ambush to chase the fighters hiding in the forested areas."
DW/dr/msh (AFP, Reuters)