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Al Shabaab launches deadly attack on military base in Somalia

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - At least 17 people were killed in Somalia on Saturday after Islamist group al Shabaab attacked a military base.

The Busley base, in the Lower Shabelle region in the country's southwest, was briefly occupied by the attackers, security officials and the group said.

Armed fighters from al Shabaab battled their way to the facility using suicide car bombs, a Somalia military officer told Reuters. He declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"Several suicide car bombs attacked the base after fierce fighting...al Shabaab briefly captured the base," the officer said.

"Then, government reinforcement fiercely battled and drove out al Shabaab."

Seven Somalia soldiers, including the commander of the base, and 10 al Shabaab fighters were killed in the fighting, he said.

Some residents in the area told Reuters al Shabaab also burned military vehicles and took others during the assault.

Al Shabaab issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. It said it had killed 57 government soldiers. The group frequently gives casualty figures that are higher than those of the government.

Somalia government officials could not be reached for comment.

The al Qaeda-allied group has been fighting for nearly two decades, aiming to topple Somalia's central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Mike Harrison)