Warplanes strike Al-Shabaab stronghold
The air strikes on the town of Jilib are understood to be part of the offensive by the 22,000-strong UN-backed AU force, who launched in March a fresh bid to wrest remaining towns from the Al-Shabaab.
“I heard two heavy explosions, military jets were flying over the city,” said Osman Mohamed, a resident of Jilib.
The impoverished town is a key Al-Shabaab hub in southern Somalia’s Middle Juba region, some 320 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.
Senior Al-Shabaab commander Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Hamze said war planes had struck the town, but denied any casualties.
“The mujahedeen fighters have managed to repel the enemy with anti-aircraft weaponry, they have fled,” claimed Abu Hamze in a telephone interview with AFP.
It was not immediately clear where the jets were from, but Kenya is part of the AU force and has used its air planes to strike Al-Shabaab bases before.
Witnesses said bombs had landed on the main route out of the town.
“Two of the bombs struck the main road that goes south to Kismayu,” resident Mohamed Hashi said.
Hardline Al-Shabaab insurgents once controlled most of southern and central Somalia.
After withdrawing from fixed positions in the capital Mogadishu nearly three years ago, they have lost most large towns to the AU and government soldiers. However, they still regularly launch guerrilla raids.