Somalia militants kill six in raid on village they recently lost

MOGADISHU, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Islamist militants from al Shabaab killed at least six people on Friday while raiding a village in central Somalia that they were pushed out of last week, a government-allied militia said.

Somalia's government and allied clan militias have forced the militants from large swathes of territory since launching a major offensive last August, but al Shabaab has retaliated with a string of attacks, including bombings in the capital Mogadishu.

It killed at least 35 people and wounded 40 more on Wednesday, when it detonated two car bombs in the central Somalia town of Mahas.

Friday's attack targeted the village of Hilowle Gaab in Hirshabelle State, which Somalia's army and allied militiamen captured from al Shabaab last week.

The fighters attacked the village during morning prayers at around 5 a.m. (0200 GMT) with car bombs, said Hussein Aden, a spokesman for the local clan militia.

A gunfight ensued, during which the militants were repelled, he said, adding that soldiers and militiamen were among the six fatalities.

"We were woken by three deafening blasts on the edge of the village, and then a heavy exchange of gunfire followed," said Mohamed Hussein, a resident of Hilowle Gaab. "Fighting has died down. I do not know how many died."

Al Shabaab said in a statement that it had recaptured the village and seized military vehicles and weapons, but residents and a local politician disputed that claim.

The offensive by the Somali army and allied militias has been backed by the United States and African Union troops.

Al Shabaab has been waging an insurgency against Somalia's government since 2007, with the aim of enforcing its strict interpretation of Islamic law.

It has been pushed back by government offensives in the past, only to regroup and return to areas that the army does not have the capacity to hold.

Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Alex Richardson

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