Dozens dead as major Mogadishu battle erupts

Fighting raged in Mogadishu on Tuesday after al-Qaeda-inspired extremists launched an offensive that the government said was a declaration of war on the Somali people, leaving 29 civilians dead.

Suspected Islamist al-Shabaab fighters stormed a Mogadishu hotel as the battles resumed and sprayed gunfire on several occupants, among them lawmakers, an official and witnesses said.

“So far what I can tell you is that they have killed several MPs,” a government security officer told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. “I think four of them are dead.”

The official could not immediately confirm their identities.

“We are not completely sure who the attackers are but we believe they are al-Shabaab insurgents who entered the area disguised in government security uniforms,” he added.

The government also said it had killed more than 15 al-Shabaab insurgents in the worst clashes since the July 11 suicide attacks in Kampala claimed by the group escalated the conflict.

Fighting broke out on Monday afternoon when al-Shabaab fighters launched an offensive on army barracks in several districts of the capital.

The head of Mogadishu’s ambulance services, Ali Muse, told AFP 29 civilians had been killed so far in the clashes, which also wounded nearly 100 others.

Somali government security officer Colonel Mohamed Omar said: “Heavy fighting resumed this morning [Tuesday] around several frontlines including Holwadag, Hodan and Bondhere area.”

“Government forces are inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, we killed more than 15 of their fighters,” he claimed, without specifying whether the fighting had caused any casualties among his own ranks.

Caught in the crossfire
Civilians in the seaside Somali capital routinely get caught in the crossfire when government forces, backed by Burundian and Ugandan African Union forces, trade mortar and artillery rounds with the insurgents.

“The fighting re-erupted this morning and there is a heavy exchange of artillery fire, the casualties are reaching their highest levels,” said Ali Muse, who only has seven ambulances to cover the entire city.

In the Bakara market area, an al-Shabaab stronghold, shops were closed on Tuesday and witnesses said armoured vehicles from the African mission (Amisom) had moved in to support the government’s military effort.

“We are trapped inside our houses and we cannot go outside because of the fighting,” said Abdullahi Hussein, a resident of Mogadishu’s northern flashpoint of Bondhere.

“I can hear the tanks of the African peacekeepers engaging their opponents and firing artillery rounds,” he added.

“Bakara market is not open this morning and people are trying to dodge the crossfire. Mortar shells are raining down on the market area and the roads leading to the market are closed,” Ali Muktar, a Bakara grocer, told AFP.

The suicide attacks in Kampala last month killed 76 people and were claimed by al-Shabaab as retaliation for Uganda’s leading role in Amisom, the only obstacle to the insurgent group’s final conquest of Mogadishu.

Uganda, hosting an African Union summit days later, responded by vowing to deploy more troops and mustering continental support for boosting Amisom’s deployment, which currently stands at more than 6 000 troops.

‘The enemy will face larger attacks from now on’
Al-Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage announced the offensive during a press conference moments before the fighting started on Monday.

“Our holy warriors have started the offensive right now and the fighting will continue until Allah’s wish is fulfilled.
The enemy will face larger attacks from now on,” he told journalists in Mogadishu.

“This operation is meant to eliminate the invading Christians and their apostate government in Somalia. The fighting will continue and, God willing, the mujahedin will prevail,” he added.

The government responded in a statement charging that the Islamist group had proved its contempt for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began last week.

“The al-Shabaab spokesperson publicly declared war against the Somali people and government on Monday. This shows their lack of regard for the holy month of Ramadan,” the Information Ministry statement said.—AFP

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