Al-Shabab extremists overran a key military base used by U.S. counterterror forces in Kenya before dawn Sunday, destroying several U.S. aircraft and vehicles, Kenyan authorities said. It was the al-Qaida-linked group's first attack against U.S. forces in the East African country, and the military called the security situation "fluid" several hours after the assault.
It was not clear whether U.S. or Kenyan forces were killed. A U.S. Africa Command statement, issued after al-Shabab released photos of blazing aircraft, said "an accountability of personnel assessment is underway" at the Manda Bay airfield. Kenyan military spokesman Paul Njuguna said five attackers were dead.
Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, claimed responsibility. In a statement Sunday evening proclaiming the 10-hour attack over, it asserted 17 U.S. "casualties," nine Kenyan soldiers killed and seven aircraft destroyed. The U.S. Africa Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claim. Earlier, it called the al-Shabab claims exaggerated and said U.S. and Kenyan forces repelled the attack.
Kenya is a key base for fighting al-Shabab, one of the world's most resilient extremist organizations. A large plume of black smoke rose above the airfield Sunday and residents said a car bomb had exploded. Lamu county commissioner Irungu Macharia told The Associated Press that five suspects were arrested and were being interrogated.
An internal Kenyan police report seen by the AP said two fixed-wing aircraft, a U.S. Cessna and a Kenyan one, were destroyed along with two U.S. helicopters and multiple U.S. vehicles at the Manda Bay military airstrip. The report said explosions were heard at around 5:30 a.m. from the direction of the airstrip. The scene, now secured, indicated that al-Shabab likely entered "to conduct targeted attacks," the report said.
The U.S. military said only that "initial reports reflect damage to infrastructure and equipment." The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority said the airstrip was closed for all operations.
The military's Camp Simba in Lamu county, established more than a decade ago, has under 100 U.S. personnel, according to Pentagon figures. U.S. forces at the adjoining Manda Bay airfield train and give counterterror support to East African partners. A U.S. flag-raising at the camp in August signaled its change "from tactical to enduring operations," the Air Force said at the time.
According to another internal Kenyan police report seen by the AP, dated Friday, a villager that day said he had spotted 11 suspected al-Shabab members entering Lamu's Boni forest, which the extremists have used as a hideout. The report said Kenyan authorities did not find them.
Al-Shabab has launched a number of attacks inside Kenya, including against civilian targets such as buses, schools and shopping malls. The group has been the target of a growing number of U.S. airstrikes inside Somalia during President Donald Trump's administration.
The latest attack comes just over a week after an al-Shabab truck bomb in Somalia's capital killed at least 79 people and U.S. airstrikes killed seven al-Shabab fighters in response.
Last year al-Shabab attacked a U.S. military base inside Somalia, Baledogle, that is used to launch drone strikes but reportedly failed to make their way inside. The extremist group also has carried out multiple attacks against Kenyan troops in the past in retaliation for Kenya sending troops to Somalia to fight it.
This attack marks a significant escalation of al-Shabab's campaign of attacks inside Kenya, said analyst Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine and longtime Kenya resident.
"Launching a deliberate assault of this type against a well-defended permanent base occupied by (Kenya Defence Forces), contractors and U.S. military personnel required a great deal of planning, rehearsals, logistics and operational capability," he said. Previous attacks against security forces have mainly been ambushes on Kenyan army or police patrols.
The early Sunday attack comes days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iran's top military commander and Iran vowed retaliation, but al-Shabab is a Sunni Muslim group and there is no sign of links to Shiite Iran or proxies.
"No, this attack was no way related to that incident" in the Middle East, an al-Shabab spokesman told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
One analyst, Rashid Abdi, in Twitter posts discussing the attack agreed, but added that Kenyan security services have long been worried that Iran was trying to cultivate ties with al-Shabab.
"Avowedly Wahhabist Al-Shabaab not natural ally of Shia Iran, hostile, even. But if Kenyan claims true, AS attack may have been well-timed to signal to Iran it is open for tactical alliances," he wrote.
But a former member of the U.N. committee monitoring sanctions on Somalia, Jay Bahadur, said in a tweet that "the attack is far more related to AS wanting a do over on their spectacular failure at Baledogle four months ago."
When asked whether the U.S. military was looking into any Iranian link to the attack, U.S. Africa Command spokesman Col. Christopher Karns said only that "al-Shabab, affiliated with al-Qaida, has their own agenda and have made clear their desire to attack U.S. interests."
The al-Shabab claim of responsibility said Sunday's attack was part of its "Jerusalem will never be Judaized" campaign, a rarely made reference that also was used after al-Shabab's deadly attack on a luxury mall complex in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, in January 2019.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed to intensify cooperation for a political solution to the crisis in Libya, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement on Monday.
During a phone call between the two leaders, al-Sisi highlighted Egypt's support for the Libyan people in achieving security and stability, Presidential Spokesman Bassam Rady said.
The Egyptian stance "is focused on restoring safety and stability in Libya, supporting anti-terrorism efforts, undermining the activities of armed groups and putting an end to the illegal foreign interference in Libya's domestic affairs," Rady noted.
Egypt is concerned about its 1,200 km western border with Libya where the smuggling of arms and militants has been very active since 2011.
Al-Sisi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shouky recently held a series of consultations with some of the world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on ending the conflict in Libya.
Since the ouster and killing of Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the North African country has been locked in a civil war that escalated in 2014, splitting power between two rival governments: the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli and a government in the northeastern city of Tobruk which is allied with the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar.
Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russia support Haftar's LNA, while the GNA is backed by Italy and Egypt's regional rivals Turkey and Qatar.
Haftar has been leading a military campaign since early April in and around Tripoli, attempting to take over the city and topple the UN-backed government.
Death toll from a suicide bomb attack at a busy checkpoint west of Somali capital Mogadishu has risen to 84 after five more bodies were found, a government official confirmed on Monday.
Ismael Mukhtar Omar, government spokesman of Somaia said the National Emergency Management Committee estimated that the number of missing people was 24.
However, Omar said after intensive search efforts of the missing persons, 12 people were found. Five of the 12 persons were found dead, one injured and six others were found alive, bringing the death toll to 84. Some of the missing are believed to be students.
More than 150 others were wounded in the attack at an explosives-laden vehicle exploded in the middle of Ex-Control checkpoint on a road leading to Afgoye district.
Some of the injured people were airlifted on Sunday to Istanbul for specialized treatment.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Saturday's deadly attack although al-Shabab militants have usually staged such attacks in the past.
A Sudanese court on Monday sentenced 27 members of the country's security forces to death for torturing and killing a detained protester during the uprising against longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir earlier this year.
The death of protester Ahmed al-Khair, a school teacher, while in detention in February was a key point — and a symbol — in the uprising that eventually led to the military's ouster of al-Bashir. Monday's convictions and sentences, which can be appealed, were the first connected to the killings of protesters in the revolt.
Last December, the first rally was held in Sudan to protest the soaring cost of bread and the dire economic conditions, marking the beginning of a pro-democracy movement that convulsed the large African country. That led, in April, to the toppling of al-Bashir, and ultimately to the creation of a joint military-civilian Sovereign Council that has committed to rebuilding the country and promises elections in three years.
The anniversary of that protest this month drew teeming crowds to the streets in several cities and towns across the country, with people singing, dancing and carrying flags. A train packed with exuberant demonstrators, clapping and chanting, arrived in the northern city of Atbara, the birthplace of the uprising, from the capital, Khartoum.
Monday's verdict in the trial of the security forces took place in a court in Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city, where hundreds of protesters, including many from the eastern province of Kassala, al-Khair's hometown, had gathered outside the courtroom and elsewhere in the city.
Footage circulating online shows the protesters cheering after the verdict was announced. The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of unions that led the protests against al-Bashir, welcomed the verdict. The group vowed to continue pursuing and bringing to justice security officials accused of torture.
Mohammed al-Feki Soliman, a member of the Sovereign Council, said the verdict "renews the Sudanese people's trust in their judicial institutions."
Al-Khair was detained on Jan. 31 in Kassala and was reported dead two days later. His body was taken to a local hospital where his family said it was covered in bruises. At the time, police denied any police wrongdoing and blamed his death on an "illness," without providing any details.
Judge al-Sadik al-Amin al-Fek, however, said on Monday that the teacher was beaten and tortured while in detention. "His death was an inevitable consequence of the beating and torture," he said.
The court also sentenced three other members of the security forces to three years each in prison, and acquitted seven suspects in the case. All the sentenced were policemen who were working in the jail where al-Khair was held or intelligence agents in the region.
Following a tradition based on Islamic law, or Sharia, the court gave al-Khair's family the opportunity to "forgive" the suspects, which could have led to their pardon, but the offer was declined.
Taj al-Ser Ali al-Hebr, the country's top prosecutor, welcomed the verdict as a "victory." He called on the government to join the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
Earlier this month, a court in Khartoum convicted al-Bashir, who was jailed by the military after he was removed from power, of money laundering and corruption, and sentenced him to two years in a minimum security lockup. The image of the former dictator in a defendant's cage on live TV sent a strong message for all of Sudan.
However, the deposed ruler is under indictment by the International Criminal Court on far more serious charges of war crimes and genocide linked to his brutal suppression of the insurgency in the western province of Darfur in the early 2000s. The military has refused to extradite him to stand trial in The Hague. Al-Bashir is now awaiting a separate trial, on charges of involvement in the killing of protesters in the months prior to his ouster.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have called on the new government to hold security forces accountable for killing scores of people in their efforts to stifle protests against military rule, especially those behind a deadly crackdown on a huge sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum last June.
Since last December, more than 200 protesters have been killed in Sudan. The government recently appointed independent judges to oversee investigations into the killings, a major achievement for the protest movement.
Sudan is under heavy international and regional pressure to reform. With the economy on the brink, the new government has made it a mission to get Sudan removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism so that it can attract badly needed foreign aid.
But the transitional government on Sunday passed the 2020 budget that dropped proposals to slash food and fuel subsidies.
The pro-democracy movement fears that the austerity measures could led to a spike in the inflation rate which increased to 60% in November.
Sudan is expected to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But that would require the government to cut food and fuel subsidies and further devalue the local currency, said the IMF's Daniel Kanda after a visit to Sudan earlier this month.
Sudanese Information Minister Faisal Saleh said the government decided to postpone cutting subsidies until an economic conference the country plans to hold in March.
A total of 23 people were killed and seven others were injured after a bus overturned on Saturday in Egypt's Port Said, northwest of the capital Cairo.
The bus, carrying factory laborers, crashed into a truck on Port Said-Damietta highway before it overturned, the state-run MENA news agency said.
Ambulances rushed to the scene to move the injured to nearby hospitals.
Egypt suffers a high rate of traffic accidents that kill thousands of people every year, mostly due to negligence of traffic rules.