Al Shabaab reportedly killed as many as 200 soldiers in an attack on a Kenyan military camp in Somalia by al Shabaab Islamists last month, according to the latest death toll from the Somali government that would make it the deadliest assault carried out by the militants in their history.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud released the figures during a speech on a national television station, although Kenya's government has already rejected the figure.
"When about 200 soldiers who came to help your country are killed in one morning, it is not something trivial," Mohamud told Somali Cable TV, a privately owned station. The interview was posted on YouTube on Thursday.
Kenyan authorities have refused to give a death toll following the January 15 raid, which targeted troops working under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) near the southern Somali town of El Adde. Newspaper pictures of coffins draped with Kenyan flags bringing back dead soldiers after the attack increased the disquiet from ordinary Kenyans and the opposition alike over Kenya's continued presence in Somalia.
Al Shabaab later distributed photos purporting to show the bodies of dozens of Kenyan soldiers, many apparently shot in the head.
"We have been winning for years and months but that el-Adde battle, we were defeated. Yes, in war, sometimes something that you do not like happens to you," Mohamud said during the interview.
Kenya sent soldiers into Somalia in 2011 after raids in the border region and kidnappings that threatened the tourism industry in the region's biggest economy and wider regional destabilisation. It later joined the AMISOM operation.
The militants have waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2006, expanding their operations across the border after the 2011 mission began. Al Shabaab's attacks in Kenya have included a raid by gunmen on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and a university in Garissa in 2015. Hundreds of people have been killed in al Shabaab attacks in the past two years.
Kenya Defence Forces spokesman, Colonel David Obonyo, denied the number given by the Somali president and questioned the source of the information.
"It is not true. This information never came from us or anyone in the government of Kenya," he told Reuters.
Al Shabaab, which has links to al Qaeda and seeks to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government, initially said it had killed more than 100 soldiers in the attack.
The group, which is also seeking to drive the AU force out of Somalia, often says its attacks against Kenyan targets are retaliation for its participation in AMISOM, which also includes troops from Uganda and Burundi. The al Qaeda-aligned militants have been driven out of major strongholds in Somalia by AMISOM and Somali army offensives, but the group still controls some rural areas and often launches guerrilla-style assaults and bomb attacks.
Al Shabaab gunmen attacked a beach earlier this year, killing more than a dozen people, and in February a suicide bomber linked to the group detonated a bomb on a plane leaving Mogadishu's international airport. The plane was able to safely land with minor damage to the fuselage, but the bomber was sucked out of the plane through the hole created by the explosion.
The militant group killed four people and injured eight others today in a mortar attack near the presidential palace in the capital Mogadishu. Al Shabaab had reportedly targeted the palace but the mortars went off some distance away, ending up about 300 meters from the nearby house of parliament.
"We pounded mortar shells on the so-called presidential palace," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military spokesman, told Reuters.
Major Mohamed Nur, a Somali police officer, confirmed the number of dead and injured.