MOGADISHU, (Reuters) – Fighting between Islamist rebels and Somali troops killed 10 people in Mogadishu, and the insurgents took control of the provincial town of Jowhar, residents and officials said on Sunday.
In a second weekend of clashes in Somalia’s lawless capital, insurgents attacked the Villa Baidoa military base in the south of the city, sparking machine-gun fire and mortar exchanges.
Six soldiers died in the overnight battle, an army officer, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Two women and two men living nearby also died from a mortar hit, resident Farhaan Dahir told Reuters. “Three other people were wounded but we could not take them to hospital until this morning because the fighting was heavy,” he added.
The Horn of Africa nation of 9 million people has suffered near-incessant civil conflict since warlords toppled a dictator in 1991.
The violence took a fresh turn at the end of 2006 when the Ethiopian-backed Somali government’s toppling of Islamists in Mogadishu sparked an Iraq-style insurgency that has killed thousands and uprooted a million people.
In a favoured tactic of recent months, Islamist fighters occupied the central Somali town of Jowhar, just 90 km (56 miles) north of Mogadishu, overnight.
Abdirahim Isa Adow, spokesman for one of the Islamist groups, the Islamic Courts, said local elders called for help after Somali security forces left and the town became vulnerable to theft and looting by local clan militias. “So we arrived and secured the town. It is not in our plan to remain in Jowhar,” he added.
It was the third time Islamists have taken Jowhar in the last two months in a tactic of brief seizures of towns that show their strength, remind local populations of their presence, and stretch Ethiopian-Somali troops.
Government officials could not be reached for comment.
More than 110 Somalis have died in the last week, both from fighting in Mogadishu and brief Islamist seizures of other towns. The insurgency killed some 6,500 people last year, according to a rights group.