Politicians among 60 dead in Somalia clashes (Second Lead)By DPA, IANS
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
NAIROBI/MOGADISHU - Somali politicians were among 31 people killed in an attack on a Mogadishu hotel Tuesday, as an insurgent offensive that has claimed at least 60 lives entered its second day.
Radical Islamist group al-Shabaab is battling to oust the weak Western-backed government, which is penned into small enclaves in Mogadishu protected by around 6,000 African Union peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.
Tuesday, three insurgents dressed as government security forces entered the Muna Hotel near the presidential palace and shot dead 31 people before detonating an explosive device, Somalia’s Information Ministry said in a statement.
Six lawmakers, five government soldiers and many hotel staff were among those killed in the attack, the ministry said. Earlier, a police official said 10 lawmakers had been shot dead.
“They have no motive other than to terrorise the Somali people. This is a deplorable act in this holy month of Ramadan,” Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said. “It shows their brutality and lack of respect for humanity.”
The attack came one day after an al-Shabaab spokesman announced insurgent forces from across Somalia were launching a drive to sweep the AU out of Mogadishu.
“I order all Somali Muslims and al-Shabaab forces to wage war and destroy the apostate troops and Christian soldiers in Mogadishu,” Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage told reporters in Mogadishu late Monday.
Heavy fighting kicked off Monday as insurgents attacked government and AU positions. Witnesses said the clashes were the fiercest in months as the two sides clashed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.
“As we were coming back from the market in the evening, the battle intensified and a heavy shell slammed down … five women died on the spot,” Rowda Abdullahi Hersi, a shopkeeper in the insurgent stronghold Bakara Market told DPA.
The government accused al-Shabaab of firing mortars into heavily populated areas. AU troops and government forces are regularly accused of causing heavy civilian casualties by firing at insurgent positions in civilian areas.
“The casualties are increasing minute by minute and the battle is intensifying,” Ali Muse, head of Mogadishu’s ambulance service, told DPA prior to the attack on the hotel. “So far, we have collected 29 dead bodies and 97 injured.”
The AU has also vowed to kick al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu with the help of several thousand reinforcements.
The AU’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi Monday that an extra 2,000 troops recently pledged by East African grouping IGAD had begun arriving.
He said an unspecified number of additional troops from Uganda had already been deployed, and that Guinea and Burundi were expected to send more soldiers. He refused to reveal when the deployment would be complete.
Al-Shabaab, which claims links to the Al Qaeda network, recently carried out its first attack outside Somali soil, targeting the Ugandan capital Kampala with twin blasts that killed 76.
The insurgents said they carried out the bombing in retaliation for the actions of Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu.
Somalia has been immersed in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
The current insurgency, which has claimed more than 20,000 lives, kicked off in early 2007, following Ethiopia’s invasion to oust the ruling Islamist regime.
The ongoing chaos has attracted militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are now as many as 2,000 foreign fighters operating from bases in Somalia, training and financing local militants, Wamunyinyi said.