Al-Shabaab fighters are seen outside a building in the Dayniile district of southern Mogadishu, Somalia. File picture: Feisal Omar

Mogadishu -

Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab commandos on Thursday attacked an African Union military base in central Somalia dressed in stolen government army uniforms, killing at least two soldiers from Djibouti, the AU force said.

Al-Shabaab said their gunmen stormed the compound of a hotel where Djiboutian troops with the AU force were based in the town of Bulla Burde, about 200km north of the capital Mogadishu, their spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP.

“The area command headquarters (of the AU force) was attacked, these attacks will continue,” Musab said, boasting to have killed six AU troops.

However, Elio Yao, spokesman for the UN-backed AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM), rejected the claims, saying the gunmen failed to enter the compound but had killed two Djiboutians in a firefight.

The two al-Shabaab fighters “dressed in military fatigues or uniform” were also killed, Yao said.

“There was an exchange of fire at the checkpoint, during that exchange the two Djiboutians were killed... the attackers were not able to enter the compound,” he added.

The attack is the latest by the al-Shabaab in retaliation for the AU offensive to root them out of areas of the war-torn country still under their control.

Residents reported a heavy blast followed by fierce gunfire and explosions for about hour, beginning around dawn on Thursday.

“There was a loud explosion before a firefight broke out,” said Ahmed Abdirisak, a local resident.

“There was heavy exchange of gunfire, it continued about an hour... dead bodies were strewn around,” said resident Hassan Mohamed.

The town was seized from al-Shabaab in March.

After withdrawing from fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu nearly three years ago, al-Shabaab have lost most large towns to the AU and government soldiers. However, they still regularly launch guerrilla raids.

Recent al-Shabaab attacks in Somalia have targeted key areas of government, or the security forces, in an apparent bid to discredit claims by the authorities and AU troops that they are winning the war.

The Islamists have also launched attacks against AU nations in the region who have contributed troops to the force.

In May, at least one person was killed and several wounded when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a restaurant in Djibouti, the first attack claimed by al-Shabaab since Djibouti joined the AU force in 2011.

Al-Shabaab have also claimed massacres on Kenya's coast region in which over 60 people have been killed, although Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has blamed “local political networks” for the attacks.

Survivors of the attacks last week in Kenya's Lamu district reported gunmen speaking Somali and carrying al-Shabaab flags, executing non-Muslims and saying their actions were revenge for Kenya's military presence in Somalia as part of the AMISOM force. - Sapa-AFP