The Al Shabab militia, which is linked to Al Qaeda, displayed dozens of bodies -- along with bibles and wooden crosses that allegedly belonged to the dead -- on the outskirts of the war-torn capital Thursday, claiming to have killed around 70 soldiers. The images were shown on the website of a Mogadishu radio station sympathetic to Al Shabab.
The bodies wore AU camouflage and many had flak jackets and helmets -- worn by AU troops in Somalia and not Al Shabab insurgents or Somali government troops.
But the AU said only 10 of its soldiers had been killed in action and two were missing, insisting that Al Shabab had dressed the corpses of its own dead to look like AU soldiers as a propaganda stunt.
The 9000-strong African Union force, known as AMISOM, is deployed in Somalia to protect the weak Somalia transitional federal government, which is backed by the West.
If the casualty figures claimed by Al Shabab were true, it would be the largest loss for the 9,000-member AU mission in Somalia in its four-year history, and would be damaging not only for the countries that contribute to the force, Uganda and Burundi, but also for Kenya, which launched a military operation in famine-ravaged Somalia last weekend in a bid to drive out Al Shabab.
In recent months, Al Shabab has been pushed out of much of Mogadishu by the AU and transitional government forces. But this month it claimed responsibility for a suicide attack at a government compound that killed more than 80 people. Among them were students waiting for exam results that could have meant scholarships to study in Turkey.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Militants near Mogadishu, Somalia, on Thursday displayed bodies of men they claimed were African Union peacekeepers. Credit: Associated Press