11 May 2009

Somalia: Islamists, 'Foreign Fighters' Make Gains in Mogadishu

Islamist hardliners led by the notorious Al Shabaab militants in the Somali capital Mogadishu have made gains during four days of fighting where upwards of 50 people have been killed, Radio Garowe reports.

The fighting was concentrated along Industry Road and 30th Avenue in Mogadishu, with battles and explosions causing much death and destruction in Yaaqshiid, Wardhigley and Hodan districts.

At least 15 people were killed when a shell hit a mosque in Wardhigley district, witnesses said. Sheikh Abdirahman, who was the mosque leader for more than 30 years, was killed in the explosion alongside other civilians.

Mogadishu residents reported that Islamic Courts Union (ICU) fighters, who are seen as the pro-government Islamist militia, lost territory during Sunday's fierce street battles.

Sheikh Hassan Mahdi, a senior member of Hizbul Islam faction, said Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam fighters jointly captured the ex-Defense Ministry building, Stadium Mogadishu and Wardhigley police station from ICU militias, who were forced to flee.

Further, the Islamist hardliners now control both Industry Road and 30th Avenue, two important roads in Mogadishu.

'Ties to Al Qaeda'

Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi told reporters that foreigners were fighting alongside Al Shabaab guerrillas in Mogadishu.

"The government will fight against any group that opposes peace...Foreigners are fighting for Al Shabaab," the Security Minister alleged.

He stated that the Council of Ministers held an emergency meeting on Sunday and voted to "declare war" against anti-government factions in Mogadishu.

Security Minister Hashi said the Somali interim government led by Islamist moderate Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as president "has not closed the book on reconciliation," but noted that the government "will fight against anti-peace groups with ties to Al Qaeda."

Separately, Mohamed Hassan Haad, the self-styled chairman of the Hawiye Unity and Tradition Council, told a press conference that "foreigners are fighting inside Mogadishu."

Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, the Al Shabaab commander in Banadir region where Mogadishu is located, told reporters that the Islamist faction "does not discriminate against Muslims."

"Muslims from across the world are fighting on our side," he told reporters Sunday.

The U.S. government has blacklisted Al Shabaab as an international terror group with alleged links to Al Qaeda.

Reporters injured

Three journalists were wounded when a shell hit a press conference where Al Shabaab member Ali "Dheere" Mohamud was telling reporters of the opposition's gains.

The three wounded reporters were identified as: Abdinasir Nur Gedi, reporter for Somaliland-based Horn Cable TV; Bashir Khalif Gani and Mohamed Abdi Nahar, both reporters for Mogadishu-based Radio Shabelle.

Ali Dheere, the Al Shabaab member who was also wounded, accused African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) of shelling the Ifka Halane Islamic court, where he was holding the press conference.

The three wounded reporters were rushed to Daynile Hospital for treatment.

Pro-government militias have reportedly retreated to areas under the control of AMISOM peacekeepers, Mogadishu sources reported.

President Sheikh Sharif's interim government is the 15th attempt to restore national order in Somalia since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.

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