Fighters from the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab have killed at least 19 civilians in a night-time attack in central Somalia, clan chiefs and local officials said on Saturday.
The attack comes two weeks after al-Shabaab, which has waged a long insurgency against the Somali state, besieged a hotel in the capital Mogadishu for 30 hours, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured.
The sources said the group intercepted at least eight vehicles travelling between the towns of Beledweyne and Maxaa overnight from Friday to Saturday, setting fire to the vehicles and killing the passengers near Afar Irdood village.
“The terrorists massacred innocent civilians who were travelling … last night. We don’t have the exact number of victims, but 19 dead bodies have been collected,” local clan elder Abdulahi Hared told AFP.
“The dead bodies are still being collected, including women and children. There could be more than 20,” said Ali Jeyte, the governor of the Hiiraan region where the attack happened.
“This was a horrible attack that has never happened in our region. These were innocent civilians,” added another local clan leader, Mohamed Abdirahman.
Al-Shabaab in a statement claimed they had targeted fighters that recently helped government forces and killed 20 “militiamen and those who were transporting material for them”.
Local fighters and the security forces recaptured several villages from al-Shabaab in the region in late August.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud “strongly condemns the despicable acts of murder against innocent civilians”, the Somali presidency said on Twitter.
“The president underscored that his government will leave no stone unturned in the fight against terrorism in Somalia and the region.”
Ali Gudlawe, president of Hirshabelle state where the attack took place, released a statement offering condolences to the victims’ loved ones and promising to continue “operations to cleanse” the region of al-Shabaab.
Source: The Guardian