MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least one soldier in Baidoa, a former rebel stronghold captured by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers during an offensive in February, a government official said.
The al Qaeda-backed militants were forced to surrender the strategic city after columns of Ethiopian troops backed by tanks rolled through their bases in Baidoa, since when the militants have resorted to guerilla strikes.
Earlier this month, 100 Ugandan troops from the African Union’s AMISOM force in Somalia went to Baidoa, the first AMISOM deployment outside the capital Mogadishu. A total of 2,500 are due to go to Baidoa, so Ethiopian soldiers there can withdraw from Somalia.
“One of our anti-terrorist forces died and others were injured after a suicide bomber stormed a cafe in front of the United Nations compound,” Abdifatah Mohamed Ibrahim, governor for the Bay region in the anarchic country, told Reuters.
“Our anti-terrorist soldier went towards the man for (screening) and immediately he blew himself up,” he said.
Al Qaeda-linked rebel group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, but said its bomber killed five Somali government soldiers and three Ethiopian troops.
The militants tend to exaggerate the number of casualties in their strikes, just as the government sometimes downplays the number of victims following such attacks.
“A mujahid suicide bomber blew up himself in a government station in Baidoa. We killed five government security forces and three Ethiopian troops,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesman for al Shabaab’s military operation, told Reuters.
“We fulfilled the target. He had an explosive jacket. The place is opposite the United Nation’s office,” he said.
A bomb planted in a market in Baidoa killed at least 12 people last week.
After capturing the town, Ethiopian soldiers set up bases at the former government headquarters and at the city’s airstrip, as well as checkpoints on the road leading southeast to the capital Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean coast.
Addis Ababa sent troops across the border into Somalia in November to open up another front against the militants after Kenyan troops moved on rebel strongholds in southern Somalia in pursuit of the insurgents it accused of cross-border raids.
A weakened al Shabaab had already suffering financial constraints and internal divisions, but still has a stronghold in the port city of Kismayu, its main outpost, which provides money out of port earnings for the militant group.
Reporting by Feisal Omar, Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Louise Ireland and David Clarke