Mogadishu exploded in violence

January 11th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 10 NY Times “” The capital of Somalia exploded in violence this morning after insurgents attacked a government barracks overnight and soldiers responded by sealing off large swaths of the city and searching house to house for weapons.The raids immediately sparked resistance. Squads of Ethiopian soldiers and troops loyal to the transitional government poured into the streets, where they battled outraged residents and a handful of masked insurgents.

From dawn through early afternoon, the pop of gunfire and the boom of explosives echoed across Mogadishu, Somalia’s reliably chaotic capital.

But it was difficult to tell how many people here actually support the growing insurgency against Somalia’s transitional government and the Ethiopian troops backing it up. Today, when a group of masked men stood on the steps of a Mogadishu mosque and announced that they were Somalia’s new freedom fighters, they were met with jeers.

“Why can’t you hit anything then?”? shouted one woman, referring to a botched grenade attack earlier in the day that completely missed an Ethiopian patrol and destroyed a house instead. “Were you scared? Were your fingers trembling?”?

Regardless of the insurgents’ popularity or lack of it, violence is clearly on the increase here.

The transitional government, which two weeks ago entered the capital for the first time since it was formed in 2004, now faces a critical test: How quickly can it pacify a notoriously dangerous city that bristles with guns and is split by deep clan divisions?

Most of the violence today was concentrated in strongholds of the Ayr sub-clan, a powerful lineage group closely connected to Somalia’s Islamist movement, which controlled much of the country before Ethiopia sent in its army last month to intervene.

On the other hand, neighborhoods dominated by the Darod clan, the clan of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the transitional president, were quiet. Many Darod members said they were quite happy about the weapons raids, especially the ones in Ayr neighborhoods.

Clan rivalries have been the curse of Somalia ever since there was a Somalia, causing its civil wars, its famines and its state of suspended decay. It seems that this new chapter is no different.

The identity of the insurgents is still somewhat mysterious, but many people here suspect that they are die-hard members of the Islamist movement. After being routed by Ethiopian-led forces in a conventional military campaign, the Islamists vowed to fight on as an underground army.

As each night passes, more government troops are coming under attack here. On Tuesday night, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades from two pickup trucks at an army barracks in downtown Mogadishu. Initial reports indicated that several soldiers were killed and the attackers got away.

Doctors at Medina hospital said this afternoon that 15 people had been admitted for gunshot wounds in the last 24 hours, including three government soldiers. The violence from the past week has filled the 65-bed hospital to overflowing, they said, leaving bleeding men and women curled up on the floor and under acacia trees in the courtyard.

“This is not something that is going to stop,”? said Dahir Mohammed, head of the medical department. “Until the Ethiopians leave, people will be determined to kill them.”?

The Islamist leaders, meanwhile, have fled to a jungle region in southwestern Somalia, along the Kenyan border, where they are being hunted down by Ethiopian troops with the help of American forces.

Somali officials said today that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a suspected terrorist accused of planning the 1998 bomb attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, had been killed in recent American air strikes in southern Somalia.

But American officials gave little or no credence to that claim today, saying that they had seen no evidence that Mr. Mohammed had been killed and were not even sure he was among those hiding in the jungle with the Islamists.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said remained possible that one of Mr. Mohammed’s top aides, Abu Taha al-Sudani, had been killed in the attacks of recent days. There was also a chance, they said, that Aden Hashi Ayro, a top Al Ittihad al-Islami official allied with the Islamists who recently fled Mogadishu, was killed.

When an American AC-130 gunship pounded the area Sunday night, it was the first time since 1994 that American forces have been publicly deployed in Somalia. American officials have complained since June, when the Islamists gained sway over the capital, that the Islamists were sheltering terrorists connected to the embassy bombings, which killed more than 200 people in all.

Residents in southern Somalia said American warplanes returned today, though those reports could not be independently verified. The Ethiopian air force has also been pummeling the area for much of the past week.

Pentagon officials have refused to discuss whether American special operations ground troops have been used in the recent operations. But some counter terrorism experts said that it is standard procedure for such troops to sift through the rubble of a bombing site to gather information about the victims.

“One would assume that a U.S. ground presence would be required at the least to do the DNA confirmation. It’s not something you would leave to the Ethiopians, and certainly not the Somalis,”? said Roger W. Cressey a former National Security Council official specializing in international terrorism.

Thousands of Ethiopian troops are essentially occupying Somalia, and many Somalis are beginning to resent it.

Barwaqho Mohammed Osman, a mother of two, stood in a downtown Mogadishu street this morning with plastic bags of groceries in her hands and no way to get home.

Ethiopian soldiers told her that her neighborhood had been sealed off because of the raids. When Ms. Osman tried to plead with them, witnesses said, the soldiers clicked the safeties off their guns and told her to go.

“Why did our president bring in these people?”? she fumed. “They are occupiers, and if they keep this up, they will fail at every step.”?

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