Somalia death toll tops 85, Islamists take more towns

Published: Tuesday, 22 April, 2008, 01:39 AM Doha Time

MOGADISHU: Somali rebels seized two more towns yesterday and corpses lay outside a Mogadishu mosque as the death-toll from battles between Islamist-led insurgents and allied Ethiopian-Somali troops rose to 85.
After mortars and machine-gun fire rocked the capital over the weekend in the worst fighting for months, Islamist fighters seized the southern coastal town of Guda, killing four Somali soldiers and wounding at least seven more, locals said.
“The town is under their control at the moment,” politician Omar Abdullahi Farole said from the area. That dawn attack added to at least 81 people dead in Mogadishu over the weekend.
The rebels have in the last few months launched an increasing number of hit-and-run raids on small towns – seizing control from local government-allied militias, only to melt away before reinforcements arrive.
Analysts say the Islamists’ militant al Shabaab wing is behind the attacks, which appear to be a show of strength designed to stretch the Ethiopian and Somali troops, rather than an attempt to win and hold territory.
Islamist fighters yesterday took another town, Dinsor, in south-central Somalia. And they imposed the Shariah law on another locality, Wajid, taken in the same area at the weekend.
“They warned the public against erecting illegal checkpoints, smoking cigarettes, chewing (narcotic leaf) khat and watching movies,” Wajid resident Aden Abdirahman said.
Meanwhile, the bodies of nine Islamic clerics were found in and around a mosque in the Somali capital yesterday run by the moderate Tabligh group, with residents saying they were shot by Ethiopian forces during weekend clashes with Islamist fighters.
Six of the corpses lay inside the Al-Hidaya Mosque in northern Mogadishu and three outside. “They were innocent preachers who were shot dead by the Ethiopian forces,” said Farah Fargan, a resident who helped collect the bodies.
Witness Sheikh Mohamed Muse said the Ethiopian troops also arrested 21 boys who had taken refuge in the mosque during the fighting.
“What they did was a gross humanitarian violation. They shot innocent clerics inside the house of Allah, I’m sure God will punish them,” Muse said.
One woman, who asked not to be named, said she saw five dead bodies outside the mosque. One appeared Asian, she said.
Local media stations Shabelle and HornAfrik quoted locals as saying Ethiopian troops killed at least 10 people including some clerics – but there was no independent confirmation of that.
Another resident, Abdulahi Mohamed, said at least 20 people – mostly women and children – had been trapped in the mosque where Ethiopian tank crews had dug deep defensive trenches. “Two Somalis who have been beheaded are also lying there,” she said.
The violence has swelled an internal refugee population of about 1mn. The weekend fighting in Mogadishu was mainly in the already largely deserted north of the city, but scores of Somalis are heading out of the capital.
“This morning as I was trying to escape the fighting which I feared might restart, I saw four dead men I knew lying in the neighbourhood,” said Mogadishu resident Hussein Abdulle.
Meanwhile, police yesterday arrested an editor with the Shabelle radio station accusing him of airing false information regarding the fighting.
“He reported that Islamist forces attacked and seized Gulwade compound where police are staying. It was a lie since no fighting took place there. We will put him on trial for airing false reports to the public,” said police commander Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdullahi. – Agencies

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