The attack comes two weeks after Al Shabab terror group besieged a hotel in the capital Mogadishu for 30 hours, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured.

Al Shabab in a statement said they targeted fighters from a local sub-clan that recently helped government forces.
Al Shabab in a statement said they targeted fighters from a local sub-clan that recently helped government forces. (TRTWorld)

Fighters from the Al Shabab terror group have killed at least 19 civilians in a night-time attack in central Somalia, clan chiefs and local officials have said.

"The terrorists massacred innocent civilians who were travelling... last night. We don't have the exact number of victims, but 19 dead bodies have been collected," local clan elder Abdulahi Hared said on Saturday.

"The dead bodies are still being collected, including women and children. They could be more than 20," said Ali Jeyte, the governor of the Hiiraan region where the attack happened.

"This was a horrible attack that has never happened in our region. These were innocent civilians who did nothing to deserve this," added another local clan leader, Mohamed Abdirahman.

The sources said at least eight vehicles were travelling on a road between the towns of Beledweyne and Maxaas when the armed men intercepted and burned them and killed the passengers overnight Friday to Saturday by Afar-Irdood village.

Al Shabab in a statement said they targeted fighters from a local sub-clan that recently helped government forces and that they killed 20 "militiamen and those who were transporting material for them", destroying nine of their vehicles.

The attack comes two weeks after Al Shabab, which has waged a long insurgency against the Somali state, besieged a hotel in the capital Mogadishu for 30 hours, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured.

READ MORE: Al Shabab attacks military base on Somalia-Ethiopia border

'All-out war'

Local fighters and the security forces recaptured several villages from Al Shabab in the region in late August.

Ali Gudlawe, president of Hirshabelle state where the attack took place, released a statement offering condolences to the victims' loved ones and promising to continue "operations to cleanse" the region of Al Shabab.

"The only way we have is to be united to fight and liberate our country from them. I call upon the society not to be discouraged," said his counterpart in Jubaland state, Ahmed Madobe.

The Al Qaeda-linked group has been fighting Somalia's internationally backed federal government since 2007.

It has been driven out of the country's main cities, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains a serious security threat in large areas of the countryside.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected in May after a protracted political crisis, promised to wage "an all-out war" to eliminate Al Shabab following the Mogadishu hotel attack.

The bloody siege drew international condemnation from partners including the United States, Britain, Türkiye and the United Nations.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that many people lost their lives and were injured in the terrorist attacks that took place on 2 September in the Hiraan district of Somalia,” said a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.

The ministry extended condolences to the people of Somalia and its government and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

READ MORE: Al Shabab terrorists storm Mogadishu hotel, casualties feared

Source: TRTWorld and agencies