MOGADISHU: At least 14 civilians were killed, dozens wounded and hundreds displaced by the fierce overnight fighting following an attack launched by Somalia’s insurgents on the presidential palace in Mogadishu, officials and witnesses said on Sunday.
Rebels from the al Qaeda inspired Shebab group fired salvos of mortar rounds and closed in on the presidential area, even though the Somali president is in Istanbul for an international conference aimed at bolstering support for his transitional institutions. African Union troops stopped the insurgent advance and defended the shriveled seaside perimeter housing Sharif’s embattled government. The fighting stopped by mid-afternoon.
“The number of civilians killed during the clashes overnight has reached 11 and it could be higher, as militants using mortars attacked several other positions in southern Mogadishu,” Mohamed Ali Idle, a Somali government security official said. The victims included five members of the same family who were killed when a mortar shell smashed into their home and at least three more civilians were killed in an exchange of mortar fire, head of Mogadishu’s ambulance services Ali Muse said, bringing the death toll to 14. Major Ba-Hoku Barigye, spokesman for the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said that the Shebab’s progress required immediate action.
“People need to understand what our mandate is. We are here to protect the transitional federal institutions of Somalia and we also have red lines,” he said. This year alone hundreds of civilians have died in the crossfire as a result of both insurgent attacks and retaliatory fire by African Union or government forces. Thousands have been killed in such incidents over the past three years and hundreds of thousands have been forced out of the city into crowded camps. Residents and officials said hundreds of families were fleeing the worst-hit neighbourhoods on Sunday. “Nobody can endure the heavy artillery and mortar shelling ravaging our neighbourhood.
Many civilians have died already and if we don’t leave, we’ll just join the list of those killed in the crossfire,” said Dahir Abdullahi Farey, a Shibis resident. The Shebab, whose leaders have proclaimed their allegiance to al Qaeda, control most of southern and central Somalia but have failed to reach the well-protected presidential compound and topple Sharif.
The movement’s top spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage, claimed at a press briefing on Sunday that Shebab fighters had killed dozens of government forces. “Our fighters attacked several positions controlled by the apostate government soldiers. We killed dozens of them and took control of their barracks overnight,” he said. Another Shebab commander, Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim, told a news agency that his forces were encircling government forces and expected to press on with their offensive on the presidential palace.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.