Rebel attacks in Somalian capital kill 15
Somalian insurgents sparked the heaviest day of fighting in the capital in months Friday, launching simultaneous attacks on government forces and peacekeepers that killed at least 15 people in Mogadishu, residents and a medical official said.
A spokesman for the Islamist insurgency said the early-morning attacks on government bases and African Union peacekeeping troops were a response to a plan for peacekeepers and the government to wrest back full control of the city.
"The fighting was a response to the so-called government and the (African Union peacekeepers) trying to intimidate us by saying that they will take control of the whole capital," Sheik Ali Mohamoud Rage said.
Friday's attacks come a few days before the first anniversary of President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed's government.
At the time, it was hoped that the election of Ahmed, a former Islamist militant, would drain support from the insurgency. But the weak and divided administration has not proved able to deliver either security or services to the population.
The UN-backed government controls only a few city blocks and only the presence of about 5,100 foreign peacekeepers keeps it from being overrun altogether. The government has been planning for months to try to retake control of the capital, where militants openly hold courts and carry out punishments that include amputations and executions.
The U.S. State Department says some of the militants are linked to al-Qaeda, and experts say a few hundred foreign fighters have joined the rebels. But it is unclear how much influence the foreigners or al-Qaeda have over the insurgency, which is an uneasy alliance of factions with different objectives.
More than 30 wounded
Ali Muse, head of the ambulance service in Mogadishu, said more than 30 people were wounded in Friday's fighting. Women and children were among 15 people killed, he added.
It was unclear whether Muse had counted the militants among listed casualties. The insurgents often wear civilian clothes.
Somali police spokesman Col. Abdullahi Hassan Barise said Somalian forces beat back the insurgents, and the attacks did not appear particularly serious. The African Union did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Local residents, though, said it was the most serious fighting since August.
"Artillery exchanges and automatic weapons fire echoed in all parts of the city from the north to the south just after midnight, creating new fear that the fighting was at its most intense for almost six months," said resident Lise Shekh Jama.
Peacekeeper base targeted
"Mortars and stray bullets were raining down into the residential areas killing civilians. I cowered all night in our room with my kids and wife," said Aden Muse, a resident in Mogadishu's southern Medina neighbourhood.
Rage said the insurgents attacked seven locations in Mogadishu. Eyewitness Haji Ibrahim Omar said one of the places attacked was a major peacekeeping base at a junction linking the port and airport, where he said African Union troops used tanks to fend off the attack.
The African Union has used tanks in the Somalian capital before. On July 12, they drove the insurgents out of a major neighbourhood following months of fighting.
That battle forced the insurgents to abandon their attempt to take full control of Mogadishu and return to hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings.
The use of heavy weapons in civilian areas also illustrates the dilemma facing the peacekeepers: They can use their tanks and mortars to outgun the militants, but doing so often causes civilian casualties that may turn the population against them, making it difficult to hold territory they have taken.