13 May 2009

Somalia: Al Shabaab Leader Speaks, More Fighting in Mogadishu

The reclusive leader of Somalia's Al Shabaab Islamist faction has spoken via a taped recording where he urged fighters to continue the 'jihad,' as at least 7 people were killed in renewed clashes in the capital Mogadishu Wednesday, Radio Garowe reports.

Al Shabaab leader Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman "Godane" issued an 11-minute audio recording to Somali media, where spoke specifically about the new fighting in Mogadishu and threatened the interim government led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, formerly leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

"The so-called government cannot be described as an Islamic government, because it was created to destroy Islamists in Somalia," Godane said.

He criticized the government by suggesting that its "top leaders" include warlords from the U.S.-backed anti-terror alliance that lost control of Mogadishu in June 2006 after a four-month war with the ICU fighters, including Al Shabaab at that time.

"The so-called President [Sheikh Sharif] flew to Addis Ababa [capital of Ethiopia] immediately after he was elected to ask for advice and troops to fight against what he calls 'extremists' in Somalia," Godane claimed.

He called on the Somali public to support the Mujahideen who are fighting against the "failed government" while warning the media to "report the truth."

"I tell the media to report the facts and the truth and to play their role in the jihad...if the journalist cannot tell the truth, he should be silent and not confuse the public," Godane warned.

It was the first public message from the Al Shabaab leader since the group's renowned father-figure, Sheikh Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a U.S. military strike in May 2008.

The U.S. government considers Al Shabaab to be a terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda.

More deaths

Meanwhile, fighting continued for the seventh straight day in Mogadishu as Islamist rebels, led by Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam factions, fought against government forces.

Witnesses said government forces attacked rebel positions near Sinay intersection, but the government forces were pushed back and lost control of Suk Ba'ad, Mogadishu's second-largest marketplace.

At least seven people were killed during the clashes, where the two sides used weapons including machineguns and mortar fire. More than 20 others were wounded and rushed to Mogadishu hospitals, said Ali Muse, who heads a private ambulance service in the war-torn capital.

This fresh round of fighting that erupted in Mogadishu that erupted on May 7 has killed at least 120 people and wounded upwards of 350 people, including many civilians.

New AMISOM base

African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) in Mogadishu have established a new military base in the southern quarters of the capital, military sources said.

AMISOM peacekeepers and military equipment were seen moving from the known bases in the northern part of Mogadishu to a new base at the former headquarters of Somalia's prison guards.

That facility was a major base for Ethiopian troops during Addis Ababa's two-year military intervention in south-central Somalia that ended in January.

It is not clear why AMISOM peacekeepers established the new base, but a military source said Burundian soldiers had moved to the new base to protect a key supply route.

The ex-headquarters of prison guards' facility was under the control of pro-government Islamist fighters and the AMISOM peacekeepers were accompanied by Somali police officers as they moved.

Somalia's new government faces an Islamist rebellion as it tries to restore national order in the Horn of Africa country torn apart by 19 years of war.

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