Dozens reported killed as al-Qaeda-linked jihadists attack African Union base in Somalia (GRAPHIC)

© Omar Faruk
Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants are claiming to have killed dozens of African Union peacekeepers in a dawn raid Friday on their base in southwestern Somalia. Fighting is continuing inside the base, a Somalian military official says.

Heavily armed militants from the Al-Shabaab extremist Islamist group launched an attack on a military base run by Kenyan troops, a contributing military force of the African Union, the Associated Press reports.

The offensive started with a suicide bomber exploding in a car at the entrance to the base. Following the explosion, heavy fire started and the extremists stormed the base.

The fighting inside the base is continuing, a Somalian military official has confirmed. The base is situated in the town of El-Ade in Somalia's Gedo region, near the Kenyan border.

Al-Shabaab online radio announced that its fighters had penetrated the base and killed more than 60 Kenya Defense Force soldiers. The terrorists claim they have seized large number of weapons and vehicles at the military base.

"Our fighters went in and after a heavy exchange of gunfire we took over the base," Al-Shabaab's military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters, which cited residents as reporting sporadic gunfire inside the military compound.

The Al-Shabaab militant group, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda, is seeking to overthrow the Western-backed Somalian government and impose a form of Islamic sharia law. It has launched a number of deadly attacks in Kenya, presumably aimed at countering the country's participation in an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

READ MORE: 147 killed in Al-Shabaab attack on Kenya university

The group was blamed for an attack on Garissa University in April last year, which killed 148 students. One year prior to that, Al-Shabaab killed 65 people in a 24-hour period in and around Mpeketoni. It was also responsible for a raid on Nairobi's Westgate Mall in 2013, which killed 67 people.

Although Al-Shabaab officially remains loyal to Al-Qaeda, around 200 of its fighters pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in December, causing tensions within Al-Shabaab.