African Union Air Strike in Somalia Kills 50 al-Qaeda Militants

African Union forces killed more than 50 insurgents in an attack on an al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia, as the death toll from clashes between security forces and the Islamist militants in northeastern Kenya doubled.

An African Union Mission in Somalia air strike targeted “senior leadership and foreign al-Shabaab fighters” on the outskirts of the southern town of Jilib earlier today, according to a statement on the mission’s Twitter account. Kenyan military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the raid, the second targeting militants in Jilib since May 18, was carried out by Kenyan Defence Force jets.

“The air strike further debilitated al-Shabaab’s capacity to wreak havoc and terrorize innocent Somali civilians,” the African Union said.

The African Union has more than 22,000 security personnel in Somalia battling al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group that is fighting to topple the country’s government and impose Shariah law. Kenyan troops, which are part of the African Union force known as Amisom, began an incursion into Somalia in 2011 after accusing the militants of killing tourists and kidnapping aid workers in Kenya, an allegation al-Shabaab denied.

This week’s air raids come after twin explosions in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on May 16 killed at least 12 peopled and injured another 99. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

In a separate incident in northeastern Kenya yesterday, at least 24 people were killed when security forces clashed with suspected al-Shabaab militants who hijacked vehicles transporting consignments of the narcotic leaf khat, according to a police official.

Withdrawal Demand

Eight police officers, a police inspector, six reservists and six civilians were killed after they gave chase to three hijacked vehicles, Mandera county Police Commander Noah Mwivanda said in a phone interview today. Three people driving the vehicles were also killed during the hijacking, he said.

Al-Shabaab said its fighters killed at least 10 Kenyan security forces during the confrontation in Mandera, about 810 kilometers (502 miles) northeast of Nairobi, and vowed to carry out further attacks unless Kenyan troops withdraw from Somalia.

“We will not stop attacking you unless you refrain from your invasion in our country and pledge the full withdrawal of your troops,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rageh said in a message broadcast on Radio Andulus in Mogadishu yesterday.

Kenya has faced a growing number of attacks since the incursion began. In September, an assault on Nairobi’s Westgate mall killed at least 67 people. Al-Shabaab took responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for Kenya’s troop deployment.

Since the Westgate incident, at least 54 people have died and more than 193 have been wounded in “terrorist attacks” in Kenya, excluding the May 16 explosions, according to Maplecroft, the Bath, U.K.-based risk consultancy.

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