Warplanes strike Somali Islamist stronghold

Warplanes strike Somali Islamist stronghold
Members of Uganda UN guard unit stand guard at the United Nations' compound of Halane, on May,18, 2014 in Mogadishu.

MOGADISHU - Fighter jets pounded a key base of Somalia's Al-Qaeda linked Shebab Sunday, in the latest push by African Union troops against the insurgents, the Islamists and witnesses said Sunday.

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 Islamists.

"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 Shebab hub in southern Somalia's Middle Juba region, some 320 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Mogadishu.

Senior Shebab commander Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Hamze said war planes had struck the town, but denied any casualties.

"The enemy tried to terrorise the children and women by dropping bombs in the suburbs of the city, but thanks to God, there were no casualties at all," Abu Hamze told AFP by telephone.

"The mujahedeen fighters have managed to repel the enemy with anti-aircraft weaponry, they have fled."

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 Shebab bases before.

Witnesses said bombs had landed on the main route out of the town.

"Two of the bombs struck the main road thatgoes south to Kismayo," resident Mohamed Hashi said.

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