Somali women sell tea on the side of the road in Baidoa on June 22, 2014, while Ethiopian soldiers in the African Union Mission in Somalia conduct a night patrol
Mogadishu (AFP) - Somalia's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militants on Thursday attacked a fortified area in the central town of Baidoa, home to a key regional government headquarters, United Nations compound and airport, security officials said.
Officials said five gunmen opened fire at the gate of the high-security zone but were held off by Ethiopian and Somali government troops. A source said an Ethiopian soldier was killed, while three of the attackers blew themselves up, another was shot dead and the fifth was shot and wounded, ending the attack.
"They are Shebab disguised in Somali military uniforms. That's how they managed to enter," a Somali police official in Baidoa, Mohamed Dahir, told AFP by telephone.
In a statement, the militants confirmed they carried out the attack and insisted it was a "success" -- with the objective being to "disrupt a security meeting" between local authorities and Ethiopian troops, who are part of the African Union's AMISOM force fighting the Islamists.
A United Nations source confirmed the attack, but said the compound where aid agencies are located did not appear to be the target of the militants.
"These are desperate attempts by Al-Shebab to seek relevance, following the massive defeats they continue to suffer from the Somali National Army working together with AMISOM troops," the African Union representative to Somalia, Maman Sidikou, also said in a statement, vowing to "pursue them further until they are completely eliminated".
- Close to defeat? -
Baidoa, situated 220 kilometres (140 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, was captured by Ethiopian forces in February 2012, ending three years of Shebab rule and dealing the group a major blow.
In November the city became the capital of Somalia's newly created South West State and the seat of its president Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, a former parliamentary speaker and key ally of the country's internationally-backed government.
According to a security source, Adan's office appeared to be the main target of the attack. However, militants failed to penetrate the building and the regional leader was safe, the source said.
Shebab rebels continue to stage frequent attacks as part of their fight to overthrow the country's government and counter claims that they are close to defeat due to the loss of territory, regular drone strikes against their leaders and defections.
In the capital Mogadishu they have targeted hotels, the international airport, the presidential palace, a UN compound and restaurants.
On Wednesday evening one person was killed in a suspected Shebab car bomb attack against a popular hotel in Mogadishu, an attack that came several weeks after the Islamists carried out a suicide raid against another hotel in the city, killing at least 25 people.
The group have also carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries -- including the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi which left at least 67 dead.
Somalia has been unstable since the collapse of Siad Barre's hardline regime in 1991, and the country's new government is being supported by a 22,000-strong African Union force that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.