HARGEISA, 17 August 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a U.N. aid compound in southern Somalia overnight, witnesses said on Monday, but U.N. guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.

One U.N. official said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them in Wajid, 70 km (40 miles) northwest of Baidoa town, at a compound used mostly for storing humanitarian supplies.

“After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them,” the official told Reuters, adding that one U.N. security guard was injured.

“We don’t know what they planned, but we think they wanted to take over the whole compound and kidnap foreign aid workers.”

Another U.N. official said nine aid workers staying in Wajid had been evacuated to neighbouring Kenya. U.N. officials in Nairobi could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Western security agencies say Somalia is a haven for Islamist militants plotting attacks in the region and beyond. Violence has killed more than 18,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1 million from their homes.

Somalia has been mired in civil war for 18 years, and the administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls only small pockets of the coastal capital Mogadishu.

Ali Isak, a local resident in Wajid, said it was unclear who launched the pre-dawn attack, but that the town was controlled by al Shabaab rebels. The United States accuses the group of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the Horn of Africa nation.

Last month, al Shabaab banned the U.N. Development Programme, U.N. Political Office for Somalia and U.N. Department of Safety and Security from operating in its territory.

Elsewhere in central Somalia, hundreds of pro-government militiamen on trucks fitted with heavy guns occupied Bulahawa town, near the Kenyan border, on Monday without firing a shot.

“Now there are armed men, some in military uniforms, in the town centre,” said local man Ali Hassan, adding that al Shabaab gunmen who had controlled the area looked to have melted away.

Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, spokesman for the Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca group, said their forces would not rest until they had driven al Shabaab out of its southern strongholds.

“Al Shabaab ran away when our battlewagons approached,” he told Reuters. “We were welcomed by residents who they harassed. We will capture Kismayu, Bay, Gedo and Bakool regions. We can’t watch our people being jailed and punished for no reason.”

Source: Reuters