MOGADISHU, Somalia – Foreign troops firing from helicopters killed at least two people in a car and then took two others captive Monday in a town controlled by Islamic insurgents, witnesses said.
Eyewitness Abdi Ahmed said the helicopters fired from the air and hit a car near Barawe. He said foreign soldiers, who were white, left with the two wounded men.
"There was only a burning vehicle and two dead bodies lying beside," he said.
It was not clear who conducted the attack or its purpose. But Barawe is controlled by al-Shabab, an insurgent group the U.S. accuses of having links to Al Qaeda. The town is some 155 miles from the capital, Mogadishu.
Many experts fear the country's lawlessness could provide a haven for al, offering a place for terrorists to train and gather strength — much like Afghanistan in the 1990s. Al-Shabab has hundreds of foreign fighters in its ranks and the group controls much of the country.
Somalia's weak government has very few resources and does not have helicopters or other modern equipment. One witness, Dahir Ahmed, said the helicopters took off from a warship flying a French flag, but that could not be confirmed.
France has launched commando raids in the past to rescue French nationals held by insurgents and pirates in this lawless African nation. Calls to the Defense Ministry in Paris rang unanswered Monday.
The U.S. government — haunted by a deadly 1993 U.S. military assault in Mogadishu chronicled in "Black Hawk Down" — is working to lower the growing terrorist threat without sending in American troops. The Obama administration recently increased aid to Somalia by pouring resources into the weak government.
Various Islamist groups have been fighting the U.N.-backed government since being chased from power 2 1/4 years ago. Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, sees near-daily battles between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
Somalia's lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off its coast, making the Gulf of Aden one of the most dangerous waterways in the world.