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26 Mar 2008 07:09
Four Somali soldiers and two civilians were killed on Wednesday when Islamist fighters raided a key southern town, sparking clashes, officials and a local resident said.
The Islamists briefly took control of Jowhar township, 90km north of the capital Mogadishu, looted government vehicles and offices and released prisoners, the official said.
The government confirmed the attack but said most of its troops had gone to nearby El-Baraf village to crack down on a suspected rebel training camp.
“The Islamic insurgents entered Jowhar early this morning from two directions and took control of the town after brief fighting that claimed several people including civilians,” said Mohamed Hasan Jelle, an elder in the township.
“A woman, her child and four Somali government soldiers died in the fighting. I have seen their bodies and the Islamic fighters broke into the central jail and released prisoners,” added Said Abdulah, a resident.
Islamist spokesperson Mukhtar Robbow confirmed the brief seizure and added they had taken government vehicles.
“Our fighters briefly took control of Jowhar in a bid to show invaders [Ethiopian troops] and their stooges [the Somali government] how we can strike anytime,” he said.
A government official in Mogadishu said soldiers were outside town at the time of the attack.
“Government security forces had been carrying out a crackdown on insurgents in El Baraf village when the Islamist entered the town,” said government official Weli Adan.
Over the past year, the Mogadishu and its outlying outposts have been hit by almost daily violence pitting Ethiopian-backed Somali forces against Islamist insurgents.
The guerrilla fighting has killed hundreds of civilians and forced tens of thousands to flee.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre paved the way for factional clashes that have defied numerous internationally-backed bids to restore stability.
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