A Shabaab suicide bomber attacked an Ethiopian military compound in western Somalia today, killing an unknown number of troops. Shabaab claimed credit for the attack.
The attack took place in the city of Beledweyne near the border of Ethiopia. Shabaab said the suicide bomber from the “Martyrdom Brigade” targeted “a building known as the Regional Headquarters which housed the Ethiopian army,” and claimed more than 200 Ethiopian troops and their officers were stationed there, according to a statement provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.
A local security official told the BBC that Ethiopian soldiers shot and killed the suicide bomber at the gate of the compound. The blast was sufficiently large enough to cause most of the building to collapse, however.
Ethiopian officials have not disclosed the number of casualties. African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi, which have forces in Somalia, often underreport their casualties.
Shabaab claimed that “33 Ethiopian soldiers, including 4 senior commanders” were killed “and up to 72 injured and the number is steadily increasing.” The figures provided by Shabaab could not be confirmed, and the terror group is known to exaggerate the results of its operations.
Shabaab said that today’s suicide attack “is part of the new strategy adopted by the Mujahideen as a bold response to the increasingly hostile enemies that have invaded Somalia.” Shabaab withdrew from Beledweyne weeks ago after Ethiopian forces reentered Somalia in force. Shabaab has also withdrawn from most of the capital of Mogadishu after African Union forces went on the offensive last summer. Shabaab has launched suicide attacks, and conducted ambushes and assassinations in the capital.
Today’s suicide attack in Somalia is the second in the war-torn country in the past week. On Jan. 19, a suicide bomber killed six people at a refugee camp in Mogadishu.
Shabaab, which has close ties to al Qaeda and serves as its affiliate in East Africa, and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, have carried out more than 30 suicide attacks in Somalia since they sought to control the country in 2006. At least two of those suicide attacks were carried out by American citizens.
The US has been targeting senior al Qaeda and Shabaab leaders in drone strikes and special operations raids. Just last weekend, US drones killed Bilal al Berjawi, a senior al Qaeda leader who also served as a top commander for Shabaab, in a strike near Mogadishu.
African Union forces have launched offensives against Shabaab on three fronts over the past year, but Shabaab still holds much of central and southern Somalia [see map from BBC]. Ugandan and Burundian troops control of much of Mogadishu after battling Shabaab forces starting last summer. In the fall, Kenyan troops invaded southern Somalia, and took over some border areas. Later in 2011, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia and seized Beledweyne and the surrounding areas.
For more information on Americans and foreigners who are fighting for Shabaab, see LWJ report, American Shabaab fighter and commander pictured together. For more information on Shabaab’s links to al Qaeda, see LWJ reports, Somalia’s Shabaab vows allegiance to new al Qaeda emir Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda leaders play significant role in Shabaab.