MOGADISHU,(Reuters) – Fighting between Islamist insurgents and African Union peacekeepers that started late on Thursday and continued into Friday killed at least 12 people in Somalia’s capital, health services and witnesses said.
Rebels from the al Shabaab group, which Washington says is al Qaeda’s proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state, said they attacked government bases and AMISOM peacekeeping troops before pulling back, and were then hit by shell fire themselves. “This fighting was the worst in months,” Mogadishu resident Ahmed Hashi told Reuters.
Violence in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and uprooted a further 1.5 million people, helping to trigger one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.
Western security agencies say the country has become a safe haven for Islamist militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.
In a statement, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the overnight assault and accused the AU of bombing civilians.
“The mujahideen attacked AMISOM and government bases last night and we killed some of their troops,” the insurgents said. “When we pulled back, AMISOM began intentionally shelling residential areas. We shall keep on targeting them.”
An AU military source and a Somali government official who both declined to be named told Reuters that one Ugandan soldier was killed in the fighting and another wounded.
The AU says two AMISOM peacekeepers were killed on Monday in an explosion at an AU medical clinic near Mogadishu’s airport.
Uganda and Burundi each have about 2,500 peacekeepers in the Somali capital, and Djibouti said on Thursday that it also planned to send 450 troops, possibly next month.
At least 25 people were also wounded in the latest clashes, an officer with the ambulance service told Reuters, mostly in the city’s Hodan Wardhigley and Howl Wadag districts. “We were woken up by the explosions at 2 a.m. and haven’t slept since because of the non-stop shelling,” said Nurta Hussein, another resident. “Two mortar bombs landed in this neighbourhood, killing four civilians and wounding six.”
Somalia has not had an effective central government for nearly two decades, leading to the rise of warlords, heavily armed militias and pirates terrorising shipping off its shores.
The fragile Western-backed administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls little more than a few strategic sites in the capital. For weeks it has been promising a new offensive against al Shabaab and another rebel group, Hizbul Islam, which both want to impose a harsh version of sharia law.
Reached by telephone on Friday, Somalia’s state minister for defence, Sheikh Yusuf Mohammad Siad, a former warlord also known as “Inda’ade” or “white eyes”, said government forces had killed more than 10 insurgents during the overnight fighting. “Tension is still high,” Siad told Reuters. “Their bodies still lie in the areas where the battles took place.”