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Suicide bomber attacks Ethiopian base in Somalia

A suicide bomber from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab movement rammed a minibus filled with explosives into a government building in Beledweyne, near the Ethiopian border. A Shabaab source said 33 Ethiopians were killed in the blast.


AFP - An Islamist suicide bomber from the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab blew himself up Tuesday at an Ethiopian army base in the central Somali town of Beledweyne, officials and insurgents said.

"There was a heavy explosion that shook the whole city, it occurred at a base where Ethiopian forces are stationed," local security official Mohamed Osman told AFP.

"The suicide bomber was shot by security guards before reaching the gate and he blew up the vehicle. We are still investigating," he added.

Hardline Shebab officials said 33 Ethiopians were killed in the blast in Beledweyne, a large town about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Ethiopian border, but the claims could not be verified.

"One of the mujahideen fighters carried out a suicide mission and destroyed the biggest base of the Christian troops from Ethiopia, many of them are dead now," said a Shebab commander, who asked not to be named.

Columns of Ethiopian troops crossed the border into Somalia in November and wrested back control of Beledweyne alongside Somali anti-Shebab forces earlier this month.

The Shebab say they have bolstered positions around the town, which lies on a strategic crossroads and is a vital trade lifeline for rebels who are also under attack in Somalia's south and in the capital Mogadishu.

Beledweyne is a key trading town on the road leading from the Ethiopian border south into the capital Mogadishu, as well as lying on the main route between north and south Somalia.

Witnesses said the suicide bomber drove a minibus full of explosives into the Ethiopian base shortly after dawn.

"It was very heavy explosion that shook the buildings in most parts of the city," said Abdulkadir Isak, a witness.

The Shebab insurgents control large parts of central and southern Somalia but are facing increasing pressure from government forces and regional armies.

Armies from neighbouring countries are converging on the Shebab -- Kenyan forces in the south, Ethiopian soldiers in the west, and an African Union force in Mogadishu made up of 10,000 troops from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

The attacks are the latest in a string of blasts including roadside bombs and grenade explosions set off in recent months in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.

An official Shebab statement claimed the bombing was "part of the new strategy adopted by the mujahideen as a bold response to the increasingly hostile enemies that have invaded Somalia."

"The mere withdrawal from a city does not necessarily preclude the mujahideen from coordinating and carrying out major operations," the Shebab added.

Most of the explosives have been set off inside the Somali capital Mogadishu, where the Shebab have largely pulled out of fixed positions and switched to guerrilla tactics against the Western-backed government and AU troops there.

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