Radical Islamist Shebab militants have killed several people in an attack on a military base of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia on Tuesday, A local military commander and witnesses alleged.
The pre-dawn attack targeted a base housing Burundian Atmis soldiers near the village of Ceel Baraf, 160km northeast of Mogadishu, the sources said.
"The terrorists attacked the Burundian army base near Ceel Baraf early this morning, there was heavy fighting and casualties on both sides but we don't have more details so far," local military commander Mohamed Ali told AFP by phone.
"They launched the attack with a car explosion before a heavy exchange of fire," he added.
"Shebab gunmen attacked the base early in the morning, there were loud explosions and automatic weapons fire. The Burundians left the base and entered Ceel Baraf village before helicopters came to provide air support," said local resident Weliyow Maalim.
"The helicopters fired missiles and machine-gun fire, we saw smoke rising over the base but we don't know anything about the exact situation," said another witness Ahmed Adan.
The al-Qaida-linked Shebab, who have waged an insurgency against the Somali state for more than a decade, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.
No comment was immediately available from the African Transitional Mission in Somalia (Atmis).
The force, which has nearly 20,000 troops, police and civilians from African countries, formally replaced the African peacekeeping force in Somalia (AMISOM) with a mandate extended in late March by the UN Security Council until the end of 2024 to stabilise the country against the Islamist Shebab insurgency.
Tuesday's attack comes less than a week after parliament appointed the speakers of the two chambers, a key step towards the election of Somalia's president.
The election period has been marked by violence and an intense power struggle at the top of the state, notably between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, nicknamed Farmajo, and his Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.