01:02 - Source: CNN
U.N. convoy attacked in Somalia

Story highlights

Police: 3 of those killed were civilians; 1 was a security force member

Two U.N. vehicles were damaged, but no U.N. personnel were injured

Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the group says

"Foreign mercenaries" were the terrorists' target, he adds

(CNN) —  

One day after executing dozens of non-Muslims at a quarry in Kenya, the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab waged an attack in its home base of Somalia – killing at least four people, according to police, in an attack on a United Nations convoy.

Three of those killed in Wednesday morning’s attack near Mogadishu’s airport were civilians and another was a security force member, Police Col. Mohamed Hassan said.

“I saw at least two dead bodies lying in a pool of blood on the ground, and police arrived soon at the area and began shooting in the air to disperse the crowds,” a witness named Sharma’arke said by phone from the scene.

A plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the airport, which also acts as a staging ground for United Nations operations and for the African Union troops on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Two United Nations vehicles were damaged, a U.N. official said, but no U.N. staff members were killed or injured.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for what spokesman Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab called “a sacred bomb attack” targeting “foreign mercenaries and U.N. staff.” Abu Musab said this action had claimed the lives of “several Somali soldiers and foreigners working with U.N.,” but he did not specify a number of dead or their nationalities.

Such violence – in Somalia and carried out by Al-Shabaab – is hardly unprecedented.

The group has been active in East Africa for years, waging an armed campaign that initially aimed to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Yet Al-Shabaab, which the United States designated as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, hasn’t confined its targets to Somali authorities. Its militants have also killed international aid workers, journalists, civilian leaders and African Union peacekeepers.

Somali and allied AU forces have pushed back, even forcing Al-Shabaab from its last major stronghold in Barawe in early October, according to residents and military commanders. Yet they haven’t stopped the group entirely, as evidenced by a deadly car bombing outside a popular Mogadishu restaurant one week after that milestone.

And it’s not as though Al-Shabaab is confining itself to Somalia. The terrorist group – whose then-leader, Ahmed Godane, pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in 2012 – has been active elsewhere in Africa as well.

Its bombers attacked bars and restaurants in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on the night of the 2010 World Cup final, killing more than 60 people. And last fall, Al-Shabaab militants casually walked into the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and began gunning down shoppers – allegedly torturing some hostages before killing them. The four-day-long siege ended with as many as 67 dead and parts of the mall destroyed.

Last month, authorities said at least 28 died after Al-Shabaab ambushed a bus in Kenya and sprayed bullets on those who failed to recite Quran verses.

And on Tuesday, the group’s militants raided a quarry in the Kenyan village of Kormey, near the Somali border, separating non-Muslim workers from their Muslim counterparts and executing them, group spokesman Sheikh Ali Dheere said in a statement read on a pro-Al-Shabaab radio station in Somalia.

At least 36 bodies were found dumped in the quarry, according to the Kenyan Red Cross.

Journalist Omar Nor reported from Mogadishu, and CNN’s Greg Botelho reported and wrote from Atlanta.