MOGADISHU, Somalia — Al-Qaida-linked militants claimed to have killed 70 foreign African Union peacekeepers, but a witness said many of the bodies put on display were likely Somali government soldiers. An AU spokesman said Friday that the insurgents had stolen uniforms and dressed up scores of their own dead.
The al-Shabab militants said the bodies were proof they are still capable of putting up a fight despite coming under attack on two fronts.
AU troops and government soldiers pushed the militants from their last bases in the capital on Thursday, AU spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said. And Kenyan troops supporting a pro-government militia have pushed at least 60 miles inside Somalia in the past week against al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab has retreated before the Kenyan forces so far, but the militants have struck back in the capital with a series of bombings — including a truck bomb that killed more than 100 people. On Thursday, they put up a bloody fight when AU forces arrived in Deynile, al-Shabab's last base in Mogadishu.
The militants showed around 60 bodies after the fierce fighting, according to several witnesses. Photos show that some of those displayed wore flak jackets and helmets — equipment that is issued to AU soldiers but not common among government troops or insurgents. But many other bodies were only dressed in green camouflage uniforms.
The Associated Press reported that one witness, a photographer at the scene, said he counted 58 bodies. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals because his observations contradicted the militants' account.
There were about 30 men in the line who were clearly Somali and some wore tattered government-issued uniforms, the witness said. The origin of nine bodies was unclear because their faces were down in the sand or for other reasons, he said.
But 19 others wore the type of uniform given to Burundian troops and looked like foreigners, he said. The militants also displayed a Bible and some crucifixes, items unlikely to be carried by Muslim Somalis. He did not see any identity documents, he said.
Ankunda said that 10 soldiers had been killed and two were missing after Thursday's battle. The bodies of the 10 dead soldiers were safely in AU hands, he said. An internal AU document seen by the AP said that 38 soldiers also had been wounded.