MOGADISHU, Somalia — Attackers from the Shabab militant group assaulted a police station in a Somali town north of Mogadishu on Tuesday, leaving at least 28 people dead and scores more wounded.
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Witnesses said a Toyota pickup truck tried to pass through the gate of a police station in the town of Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border, but the truck was blocked by African Union forces. The attackers then detonated explosives inside the vehicle.
After the explosion, witnesses said, armed Shabab fighters entered the station and engaged in a shootout with the police. A Somali government spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman, said that in all, 11 officers and 7 civilians were killed in the attack, along with 10 militants who died either in the explosion or in the ensuing gun battle.
A spokesman for the Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. Just two months ago, the group said it was behind the deadly siege at the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which left more than 60 people dead and thrust the Somali militants back into focus as a dangerous, cross-border threat.
International efforts to combat the group have only escalated since then. The United States military carried out a missile strike against a top Shabab operative in Somalia last month. Shortly thereafter, the Kenyan military also conducted airstrikes against a militant training camp run by the group.
Last week, the United Nations Security Council authorized an increase of more than 4,000 peacekeepers to aid in the fight against the Shabab, which will bring the total number of African peacekeepers in Somalia to more than 22,000 while expanding logistical support for the force.
The scene Tuesday was reminiscent of a devastating attack on the United Nations compound in Mogadishu in June, in which armed gunmen stormed the building after a bomb blast in a pickup truck. The assault on the police station came just a month after the Shabab attacked a cafe in Beledweyne frequented by African Union soldiers.
One witness to Tuesday’s attack, Abdi Ali, said he saw at least 10 bodies inside the police station. Another witness, Abdullahi Mose, said he saw at least four other bodies outside the police station killed by the explosion of the truck.
The Shabab rose to power as a nationalist movement resisting the United States-backedEthiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. It claimed control of large areas of the country, including Mogadishu, but Somali troops and African Union forces have forced it back in recent years.
Both African Union peacekeepers and Somali forces “have paid a heavy price for their brave role in stabilizing Somalia,” President Hassan Sheik Mohamud said in a statement after the attack.
“We are making great progress while our enemies are on the back foot and reduced to sporadic and self-defeating attacks with no regard to life,” he said.
A spokesman for the Shabab, Abdiaziz Abu Musab, said in a telephone interview that the attackers “were told to enter the building and basically took over the building and there were a lot of casualties.”
Mr. Musab said 18 African Union soldiers from Djibouti and 23 Somali officers were killed but no civilians. The Shabab often give higher death tolls in the wake of such attacks than the numbers cited by Somali or African Union officials.
“Whenever we get a chance to attack anytime, we’re going to do it,” Mr. Musab said. “There’s an enemy in the area. This is our country. This is our land. We have to banish them.”