Tobin Jones / AMISOM / AP

Al-Shabab claims attack on African Union base in Somalia

At least five Al-Shabab fighters were killed, according to officials; Al-Shabab claimed it killed 14 soldiers

Gunmen attacked the African Union's main base in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, on Thursday leading to a deadly exchange of gunfire between rebels and soldiers.

The Somali group Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack and said they were targeting a Christmas party at the base, which also houses embassy and UN offices.

At least eight men entered the AU base near the Mogadishu airport, said AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) spokesman Col. Ali Aden Houmed. Some of the Al-Shabab fighters wore  Somali National Army uniforms as a diguise, according to an AMISOM statement.

"An investigation is underway on how they entered the base," he said, adding that the attack was launched when many people were at lunch.

Three AMISOM soldiers and a civilian contractor died during the gunfight, and at least five Al-Shabab fighters were killed and three captured, according to AMISOM.

An Al-Shabab spokesman claimed the group killed 14 soldiers. In the past,  Al-Shabab has exaggerated numbers while officials have played down losses.

Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu from 2007 to 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia's capital city by African Union forces. The Al-Qaeda linked fighters then also lost control of the port city of Kismayo, eliminating one of its major sources of income. Despite those setbacks, the group continues to carry out devastating suicide and gunfire attacks.

Ali Abdullahi, who lives near the airport, said AU troops took up positions inside the base. All roads leading to the airport were sealed following the shootout, he said.

The AU force headquarters is a fortified structure located on the grounds of the Mogadishu airport, which has also been placed under high security. There are currently some 22,000 AU troops as part of the peacekeeping force, deployed since 2007.

Somalia has been trying to rebuild following years of political instability and civil strife since 1991, when the dictator Siad Barre was ousted from power.

Al-Shabab was credited with the 2013 attack on a Nairobi shopping center that left 67 people dead.

Al Jazeera and wires

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