Intense battles between Somali troops and al-Shabab fighters have broken out in Afgoye, a strategic city about 30km northwest of the capital Mogadishu, according to security sources and witnesses.
Tuesday’s clashes started when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle near a police station and an African Union base. Gunmen then stormed the area, attacking military bases.
“Fierce fighting is taking place in several bases in Afgoye, one of which came under attack from a booby-trapped car,” Abdulakir Ahmed, a local security official, told AFP news agency.
Ahmed later said that at least 10 people, including soldiers and civilians, had been killed by the attackers, who also suffered casualties.
Al-Shabab, which has been carrying out a series of deadly bombings throughout Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement, the armed group said it had recaptured the town, which it evacuated in May 2012 after coming under attack from the Somali army and African Union peacekeepers.
Later on Tuesday, Captain Abdullahi Ali, a senior Somali military officer, told The Associated Press news agency that security forces had fully secured Afgoye and the al-Shabab fighters had fled.
Residents also told AP that troops had recaptured the town, with hundreds of soldiers patrolling the streets.
Earlier, Afgoye resident Amin Moalim said the town had been taken by surprise and “people are hiding in their houses and those who stayed outside have fled”.
“I saw wounded civilians and Somali soldiers as well,” he told AFP. “We don’t know who is controlling the city so far because heavy exchange of gunfire is going on.”
Al-Shabab has carried out numerous attacks in Somalia to try to topple the western-backed government.