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13 killed as Somali soldiers, AU forces attack insurgents’ area

By Babs Odukoya
21 December 2009   |   8:31 pm
IT was a sad 66th anniversary for Somali police authorities yesterday when Islamic militants fired mortars into the Mogadishu's police compound, sparking a battle that killed no fewer than 12 civilians and a police officer, agency reports claimed. In the ensuing battle, one police officer was killed and three others were wounded after the mortar landed near the compound during the ceremony, a police official, Aden Ahmed, told Associated Press (AP). He said that government soldiers and the African Union forces returned fire, shelling Mogadishu's rebel-controlled district. Most of the shelling hit near the Bakara market, a busy shopping area, Ahmed said.

Ali Musa, the head of the Mogadishu ambulance service, no fewer than 12 civilians were killed and 15 others were wounded in the retaliation.

Somalia’s capital sees near-daily bloodshed as a powerful insurgent group with links to al-Qaeda tries to overthrow the fragile government and push out 5,000 African Union peacekeepers.

The country has been ravaged by violence since warlords overthrew dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on each other. A moderate Islamist was elected president in January amid hopes he could unite the country’s feuding factions, but the violence has continued.

Suicide bombings, unheard of in Somalia before 2007, have also become increasingly frequent and the lawlessness has raised concerns that al-Qaeda is trying to gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa.

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber attacked a university graduation ceremony in Mogadishu, killing 24 people, including three government ministers, medical students and doctors. The government blamed al-Shabab, which has denied responsibility. The group is part of an Islamic insurgency trying to topple the government.

Recently, no fewer than three Somali police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in the port city of Bossaso in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

The bomb exploded as the police vehicle drove past on a routine patrol.

Puntland has been relatively stable compared with the rest of Somalia but violence has recently increased.

Last month, a judge, Mohamed Abdi Aware, known for his tough stance against pirates and Islamist militants was shot dead.

Many of the pirates who attack ships in the Indian Ocean are based in Puntland.

It is also home to people-traffickers who help people cross the Red Sea to Aden.

But three men were arrested over the killing of Aware. In addition to jailing suspected pirates, Aware also recently jailed four members of Somalia’s Islamic insurgency.

Eyewitness Mohamud Dahir, according to the Associated Press (AP), said masked men with pistols shot the judge in the head and chest several times as he left a mosque in the port city of Bossaso.

“These gangs hate him for his justice. We suspect one of them may have something to do with his assassination,” said Aware’s cousin, Abdulahi Jama.

Aware was also a member of Puntland’s Supreme Judicial Council, which supervises the judiciary and nominates senior judicial officials.

Samatar sayid Puntland legislator, Ibrahim Ilmi Warsame, was also shot dead recently as he sat in a restaurant with friends. It was not immediately clear if the killings were linked.

Targeted killings are rare in Puntland than in south central Somalia, where the embattled government is fighting an Islamic insurgency. Pirate gangs have exploited the lawlessness to launch attacks from many towns along Somalia’s coastline, including several in Puntland.

Somalia has not had an effective central government for 18 years, although Puntland has set up a semiautonomous government and the northern region of Somaliland has declared its independence.

Warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, plunging Somalia into chaos and anarchy.