Fighters from Somalia’s al Shabaab militant group attacked a town north of the capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday, killing at least seven people as they battled government security forces.
According to residents and the police, the attack happened amid a political dispute between Somalia’s president and prime minister which its international partners worry has distracted the government from the fight against the insurgents.
“We were in a mosque praying when a heavy exchange of gunfire took place at the bridge. Al Shabaab thus captured the town, overrunning the soldiers at the bridge,” Hassan Nur, a shopkeeper in Balad said.
“There were few police forces in the town. (The police) were missing. When the firing started people ran into their houses. I counted five dead soldiers and two civilian women,” he said.
Also confirming the incident was Police captain Farah Ali who said the fighters stayed briefly in the town after the attack but then left.
Somalia, which has had only limited central government since 1991, is trying to reconstruct itself with the help of the United Nations.
The United Nations and various countries have urged its prime minister, Mohammed Hussein Roble, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to settle their dispute, which has raised fears of conflict.