Reports about the number of people killed in the attack in the semiautonomous Puntland region varied widely. A spokesman for the Shabaab, extremists who regularly carry out attacks against the government, said fighters had killed more than 60 soldiers and made off with the military’s equipment. Somali officials said far fewer people had been killed.
The Shabaab often claim to have killed more people in their attacks than the government will acknowledge.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia expressed his sadness for the slain soldiers in a statement on Thursday. “They fought hard and bravely for their country, to keep their people safe during this holy month of Ramadan,” he said.
The attack underscored the militants’ continued potency, even though they have lost territory and now control only a small part of the country. The Shabaab have been fighting the United Nations-backed government in Mogadishu for years, seeking to impose their strict interpretation of Islam. They have also been behind attacks in Uganda and Kenya, including the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. In recent weeks, they have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya, killing dozens.
The attack on Thursday showed that the Shabaab are undefeated, said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation and an expert on Somalia. “Their forces retain the capacity to mobilize forces and stage well-coordinated, targeted attacks,” he said, even in areas like Puntland, which has been relatively sheltered from the Shabaab’s influence.
“They have a formidable intelligence network and a sufficient number of followers,” Mr. de Waal said.
The assault on the army base may have been a response to the military’s decision last week to sentence five Shabaab members, arrested in April, to death.
It began with a large explosion as gunmen overran the base in Af-Urur, about 60 miles west of Bosaso, on the Gulf of Aden. The regional security minister, Abdi Ali Hersi, said the militants had killed village elders, women and children as they fought their way to the base.
A Shabaab spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Muscab, made no mention of civilian deaths.
“Our fighters have on Thursday morning raided and overran a military camp in Af-Urur village near Bosaso, where 61 Somali soldiers were confirmed killed,” he said.
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