Several die during hours-long Islamist attack on Somali town

Three soldiers and several jihadists were killed during an hours-long attack by Islamists on the central Somali town of Baxdo on Friday, an army commander said.

The incident underlines the challenges for the country’s newly elected president.

Heavily armed Al-Shabaab militants launched the assault in the early hours.

They set off a car bomb before spreading out across Baxdo, a town around 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu.

The insurgents “stormed Baxdo in the early morning. They blew up a vehicle loaded with explosives and targeted several key locations in the town,” Mohamed Abdirahman, a local security force commander, told AFP by phone. 

“I saw 13 of their dead bodies and we lost three of our comrades in the battle,” he said. 

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud commended the army for fending off the attack by the Al-Qaeda-linked militants, who have been fighting to overthrow the government for more than a decade.

“You have sent a message of bravery to show the days of the terrorists (are numbered),” he said.

The insurgents issued a statement saying their forces had “retreated to base after concluding the operation”.

The militants had previously attempted to capture Baxdo in January.

Al-Shabaab were driven out of Mogadishu, the capital, in 2011 by an African Union force.

But they still control swathes of the countryside and maintain the capacity to launch deadly attacks on civilian and military targets.