The Islamist group Al Shabab launched a deadly attack on African Union peacekeepers in southwestern Somalia Friday, about 340 miles west of Mogadishu in a region near Kenya's border.
Al Shabab stormed a military base operated by Kenyan troops who are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with a suicide car bomb, followed by heavy gun fire, Al Jazeera reported. The group claimed to have killed at least 63 Kenya Defense Force (KDF) officers. But an AMISOM spokesman said that the Islamist group is exaggerating the number of casualties inflicted on KDF and did not give a figure.
This marked the third time that Al Shabab attacked an African Union military base in Somalia. The group launched two attacks on AMISOM troops last year, one manned by troops from Burundi in June, and another on Ugandan troops in September, that left at least 50 dead.
AMISOM has forces from several African countries, numbered to be about 22,000, and has been fighting the militant group in Somalia for over a decade now.
Most experts say that the Al Qaeda-affiliated extremist group in Somalia gained popularity in 2006, when Ethiopia invaded Somalia and overthrew Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which imposed Sharia law, caused terror, and killed hundreds of Somali citizens. The Ethiopian invasion was backed by the United States in its efforts to counter the engendering extremism caused by the Islamic Courts.
Al Shabab’s terror activities have been regional, mainly in Somalia and often targeting neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda. In Somalia the group terrorizes locals by enforcing their extreme interpretation of Islam, and has cost them the popularity they had enjoyed, according to the Guardian.
Yet, in its external attacks such as the 2013 Westgate Mall and Garissa University attacks in Kenya that left a total of over 200 people dead, the group has tried to single out Christians from Muslims, a move seen as an effort to wage a rift between the religions, according to the BBC.
But the recent attack on a bus in northeastern Kenya, in which Muslims shielded Christians from being killed by the group, is a sign that the group does not have any support from Muslims, according to experts.
In Somalia, the group has gradually lost local support and has weakened because of its strict interpretation of sharia law. According to the Guardian, the group garnered supporters by providing services that lacked in the areas they controlled.
Former Mogadishu mayor Mohamed Nur said that the only hope for reducing the group's control is gain local trust by providing services needed.
“The only weapon that is more effective than the bombs and the modern weapons is the people. You have to use the population, you have to organize the population.” Nur told the Guardian.