The attack happened amid a political dispute between
Somalia’s president and prime minister which its international partners worry
has distracted the government from the fight against the insurgents.
Police and residents in Balad, 30 km (18 miles) north of
Mogadishu, said fighters from the al Qaeda-linked group attacked and overran
government forces guarding a bridge at a town entrance early in the morning.
“We were in a mosque praying when a heavy exchange of
gunfire took place at the bridge. Al Shabaab thus captured the town,
overrunning the soldiers at the bridge,” Hassan Nur, a shopkeeper in
Balad, an agricultural town that links Somalia’s Middle Shabelle region to
Lower Shabelle, told Reuters by telephone.
“There were few police forces in the town. (The police)
were missing. When the firing started people ran into their houses. I counted
five dead soldiers and two civilian women,” he said.
Police captain Farah Ali said the fighters stayed briefly in
the town after the attack but then left.
“Al Shabaab did not come to our station but captured
the entire town in the fighting and left without patrolling,” he told
“I understand there are about eight people dead
Al Shabaab aims to topple the government and impose a strict
version of Islamic law. It often carries out bomb attacks on government targets
but also on civilians. It also targets African Union peacekeeping troops.
Somalia, which has had only limited central government since
1991, is trying to reconstruct itself with the help of the United Nations.
The United Nations and various countries have urged its
prime minister, Mohammed Hussein Roble, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
to settle their dispute, which has raised fears of conflict.
The president on Monday tried to suspend the prime
minister’s powers for suspected corruption. The prime minister described the
move as a coup attempt and he asked all security forces to take orders from his
office, not the president.