Shelling in Somalia's capital kills twenty

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

According to medical workers and witnesses, at least 20 people, including many civilians, have been killed in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu after one of the heaviest battles between Islamist militants and government forces in weeks.

Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance services, said at least 58 other people were wounded. Other reports put the number of injured as high as 70.

Witnesses say the shelling began on Thursday at the city's international airport, as President Sharif Shekh Ahmed was heading to Uganda for an African Union meeting on refugees and internally displaced people.

The witnesses said that insurgents shot mortars at the airport and airplane and African Union peacekeepers returned fire. They say the busy Bakara market was also struck hard by mortar shells. Witnesses saw the dead bodies of at least six civilians there. The president was not hurt in the attack.

“As the Somali president flew out to Kampala for a meeting of African presidents, Islamist insurgents began shelling the airport,” said a spokesman for the presidency in an interview, Abdulkadir Mohamed Osman. “Peacekeepers responded.”

Vice chairman of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization in Mogadishu Ali Yasin Gedi said that "insurgents fired mortar bombs at the plane carrying President Ahmed, and then AMISOM [the African Union Mission to Somalia] responded with shells. That is how the problem started."

A paramedic working for the Lifeline Africa and Nationlink Ambulance Services, Ali Muse Sheikh, reported that around sixty people were hurt by the clashes. “It is one of the worst events I have ever seen. We don’t have enough ambulances or private vehicles to collect the casualties. The number of casualties is increasing minute-by-minute,” he said in a telephone interview.

A shopkeeper in the Bakara market described his experiences to the Reuters news agency. "They were taking cover in a concrete building, but such big shells can penetrate the strongest house. We can't go out to count how many more are dead. Bombs are raining on us," said Farah Olow.

Since the first 1,500 peacekeepers from Uganda arrived in Mogadishu more than two years ago, AMISOM troops have been frequently attacked by Islamist insurgents seeking to overthrow the Somali government. In February, eleven peacekeepers from Burundi were killed by a suicide car bomber. Another seventeen peacekeepers, including the Burundian deputy force commander, were killed last month in twin suicide car bombings at the AMISOM base.

Al-Shabab, a group the United States and other Western countries believe is al-Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa, took responsibility for both of those attacks.

Somalia has not had an effective stable government since 1991, when Siad Barre's government was overthrown by warlords who soon started fighting amongst themselves. The resulting violence has displaced over 1.5 million people, and killed 19,000 civilians since early 2007. The Al-Shabab group and its allies control a large portion of southern Somalia after a nearly three-year war against the Western-backed Somali government.


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