NAIROBI, Kenya -- More than a dozen people, including at least four Ethiopian soldiers, were killed Saturday in a suicide attack on a cafe in western Somalia, near the border with Ethiopia. The Shabab, the militant Somali Islamist group, claimed responsibility.
The attacker, strapped with explosives, blew himself up around 11 a.m. in Beledweyne, a city about 200 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, officials said. Col. Isack Ali Abdulle, a police commander in Beledweyne, told local reporters that the attack had killed 15 people.
A spokesman for the Shabab, Abdiaziz Abu Musab, said the suicide bomber had been targeting soldiers from Ethiopia and Djibouti who frequented the cafe. Mr. Musab gave a higher death toll, saying 25 people had been killed.
A spokesman for the African Union, which has a peacekeeping force in Somalia to help local forces fight the Shabab, said soldiers from Djibouti and Ethiopia did patrol the area of Beledweyne, though Ethiopian troops are not part of the peacekeeping mission. Four or five Ethiopian soldiers were among the dead, a Somali official said.
The attack occurred four weeks after the Shabab laid siege to the Westgate mall in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, which brought worldwide attention to the ferocious militant group. Inside Somalia, the Shabab have long posed a significant threat, carrying out large-scale attacks in Mogadishu at a United Nations compound, a court complex and a popular restaurant.
In a statement, Somalia's prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, confirmed the attack, saying the bombing had killed "a number" of Somalis and calling Shabab fighters "brainwashed."
The Shabab rose to power as a nationalist movement resisting the United States-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006. The group grew to control large swaths of the country, including Mogadishu, but Somali troops and African Union forces have beaten it back in recent years.
The African Union contingent was able to dislodge the Shabab from key cities in Somalia, but the group has responded by focusing increasingly on suicide attacks.
Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 20, 2013 2:01 PM