Mogadishu: Islamist extremists attacked an army post in northeastern Somalia, killing 12 soldiers in one of the deadliest attacks in recent months by the al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Shabab, an official said Wednesday.
The attack occurred in Galgala Mountains, in the semiautonomous Puntland region, where the al-Shabab rebels are trying to expand their influence.
The militants attacked the post and blew up a roadside bomb on Tuesday night, killing the soldiers, said a Puntland official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press.
Al-Shabab rebels have been pushed out of the cities of southern and central Somalia by African Union forces. The Somali government says the militants are consolidating in Galgala.
The rebels` northern flight to the Galgala Mountain comes after months of increasing pressure from the African Union force, made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Al-Shabab this year merged with a Puntland warlord Mohamed Said Atom and clashed with government forces in Puntland several times. Al-Qaida and al-Shabab the most powerful Islamist militant group in Somalia merged earlier this year.
Galgala is an ancient mountain town in Puntland has been a key rebel stronghold for years. Fighters led by former arms trader Atom have been fighting the Puntland government from bases in the mountains for years.
A 2010 report by the UN accused Atom of importing arms from Yemen and receiving consignments from Eritrea, including mortars, for delivery to al-Shabab forces in southern Somalia.
Atom`s supporters say he is fighting for more equitable distribution of revenues from oil exploration deals with foreign companies.
Puntland authorities have long blamed Atom`s group and al-Shabab for carrying out bombings and assassinations in their region, but outright assaults on government positions have been rare.
Al-Shabab relies on several hundred foreign fighters some with experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Shabab formally joined al-Qaida earlier this year, and seeks to recruit new soldiers from Somali communities overseas.