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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) - An army colonel in the semi-autonomous Puntland region who also headed the region's bomb disposal unit was killed on Tuesday after a roadside bomb he was defusing exploded, a military official said.

The incident occurred on a road that links Bosaso, Puntland's second biggest city, with Galgala Hills which is controlled by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group.

Colonel Osman Abshir Omar was killed after he started dismantling the bomb on Tuesday, one of his colleagues said.

"We were with the Colonel. He stopped the car, got down and started dismantling a bomb but it suddenly went off and killed him on the spot," Major Abdirizak Mohamed, who was among thesoldiers accompanying Omar, told Reuters.

Al Shabaab claimed responsibility.

"We targeted the Colonel. We exploded the bomb," Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's spokesman for military operations, said.

Militant attacks in Puntland are rare compared to the rest of Somalia mainly because its security forces are relatively regularly paid and receive substantial U.S. assistance.

Al Shabaab, which aims to topple Somalia's government and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state, has become more active in Puntland after being pushed out of its stronghold further south by African Union peacekeepers and the Somali army, officials say.

This year there has been rise in violence in Puntland by a splinter group linked to Islamic State have attacked government troops.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; additional reporting By Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Reuters