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May 23, 1:37 PM EDT

Somalia: Militants kill lawmaker in capital, attack 2 towns



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Somalis Head to Kenya's Dadaad Refugee Camp
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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- A Somali lawmaker was shot and killed by gunmen in the capital Saturday, as dozens of Islamic extremists attacked two towns in southern Somalia, clashing with government troops in fighting that killed 18 militants and soldiers, Somali security officials said.

Suspected militants in a car sprayed bullets at the vehicle carrying two Somali legislators in the capital Mogadishu, Somali police officer Capt. Mohamed Hussein said.

Gunmen stopped their car in front of the lawmakers' vehicle, blocking them from proceeding as the gunmen fired at them, he said.

Lawmaker Yusuf Dirir died of his wounds at a local hospital, said fellow legislator Ali Muhummed. Lawmaker Abdalla Boss, a former Somali defense minister, escaped unhurt, according to Hussein. The attack took place on Maka Almukarramah Boulevard, which is mostly used by government officials and African Union forces in Mogadishu.

The attack is another reminder of the security challenges facing the Somali government, which, despite deploying hundreds of soldiers across the seaside capital is still unable to prevent deadly attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Shabab. The al-Qaida-linked extremist group frequently carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings often targeting government troops, lawmakers and foreigners in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia's Western-backed government.

The militants early Saturday also attacked two towns in rural southern Somalia, military officials told The Associated Press.

The clashes happened in Awdhegle and Mubarak and the militants were later driven out of the towns after government troops regrouped and launched a counter-attack, said Mohamed Abdullahi, a Somali military commander in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region.

He gave no more details on the casualties.

Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia's government and remains a threat in the East African region.

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