Mogadishu — Heavy fighting broke out in Mogadishu Friday (August 15th) as Somali government and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops battled a powerful militia warlord in a bid to disarm him, security officials said.
"The operation was conducted jointly by the police force and the Somali military and intelligence service forces with assistance from AMISOM," Ministry of National Security Spokesperson Mohamed Yusuf Osman told Sabahi. "The targets were houses where weapons used to harm the public were stored."
"We recovered various weapons, including rifles, landmines, heavy weapons including [bazookas], ammunition, and military and police uniforms," he said. "Those weapons were used to support al-Shabaab and to bring harm to the Somali public and government."
The operation was part of the Somali government's disarmament campaign announced earlier this month.
Osman said that during the operation, the allied forces were "confronted" by militiamen Friday morning, according to AFP.
Bursts of gunfire and heavy explosions were reported before dawn, with witnesses reporting at least five dead.
"Fighting was very heavy, both sides used heavy machine guns and fired grenades," said Abidiweli Mohamed, a local resident. "I saw the dead bodies of five people, three of them civilians, but now the fighting seems to be over."
Government troops said they had taken control after several hours of fierce battle.
"Forces are continuing with their operations," Osman said, adding that while there were casualties he was unable to confirm details.
Witness Ali Lugey said he saw AMISOM and government solders "storming the house" of militia leader Ahmed Dai.
The gun battle reportedly also spread to the house of former warlord and current local politician Abdullahi Sheikh Hassan, according to Somalia's RBC News.
"I saw several casualties, dead bodies and children who had been injured in the crossfire," Lugey said.
But militia commander Dai told reporters the only guns he had were for "self-defence".
"AMISOM and security forces raided my house early this morning and we defended ourselves," Dai said. "If they are claiming the operation is aimed for disarmament, then I have got no weapons, except a few for self-defence purposes."
AMISOM said in a statement that they took part in the pre-dawn raid on Dai's home in a "search operation...following a tip-off that there was an arms cache".
Dai resides in Mogadishu's Madina district, a neighbourhood close to the heavily defended airport zone, headquarters of AMISOM.
Dai's militia opened fire and a "firefight ensued", AMISOM said, adding that the "militia was overpowered and 20 were arrested".
Dai himself was not captured.
A few hours after the raid on Dai's residence, Somali security forces stormed the offices of Shabelle Media Network, arresting 20 staff members and seizing equipment, accusing the station of "negative" broadcasts about the operation against Dai.
"They have arrested 20 members of staff, including the director, and equipment including for transmission was also seized," said Mohammed Bashir, a Radio Shabelle producer. "I escaped only because I had gone to pray."
Sky FM radio, broadcasting from the same building, was also taken off air.
Shabelle Media Network has been temporarily shut down by the government at least three times in recent years. It has also been threatened al-Shabaab fighters over its reporting, and several of its journalists and two of its directors have been killed.
Commenting on the closures of the two radio stations, Osman, the government spokesperson said, "They were shut down by security forces for broadcasting programmes aimed at inciting conflict and pitting tribes against one another which threatens national security."
"The matter is under investigation and we will reveal the results," he told Sabahi.