Wednesday, June 17, 2009

26 killed by fresh fighting in Mogadishu

MOGADISHU - AT LEAST 26 people have been killed by fresh fighting in Mogadishu, half of them when a mortar shell hit a mosque as worshippers left after evening prayers.

Mogadishu's top police commander and 5 children were among 13 people killed earlier. The mosque carnage then made Wednesday one of the worst days in weeks of clashes between the Somali government and Islamist insurgents.

'It was the most terrible incident I have ever witnessed, 13 people have died,' witness Dadir Ali Jes said after the explosion at the mosque. Government security officer Adan Weheliye described it as a 'tragedy'.

The 5 children killed earlier were also killed by a single mortar shell. The death toll in Mogadishu has climbed well above the 250 mark in just over a month.

Colonel Ali Said Hassan, Mogadishu's police chief, was killed during the fierce fighting that broke out early in the day when government fighters attacked rebel strongholds in the capital's southern Hodan district. Col Hassan, one of Somalia's most respected police officers, was hit by sniper fire from the rooftop of a nearby building, witnesses said.

'The commander of Mogadishu police died in the line of duty,' said a senior police official, who asked not to be named. 'He was a brave officer who has expended tremendous effort to bring peace. He was killed by terrorists.'

The pre-dawn combat erupted when government forces attacked positions controlled by Islamist insurgents. Shelling continued into the evening as rebel-held areas of the capital were heavily pounded, an AFP reporter said.

Other police sources said 3 other members of the force had been killed in the fighting. Witnesses said 9 civilians, 5 of them children, had died from mortar fire in a nearby neighbourhood.

An AFP reporter saw the bodies of the children - aged between 9 and 14 years - lying in pools of blood under a balcony where they had sought shelter from the shelling.

'The 5 children were trying to hide when a mortar shell landed at the same place they were hiding, unfortunately they all died on the spot,' said Habibo Adan, a resident very close to the area.

An ambulance driver said at least 50 people had also been wounded in the renewed violence. 'They include children and women and some of them have serious injuries,' said the driver, Sheikh Mohammed Ali.


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