Bloomberg: At least 60 people died in Somalia, including six lawmakers, as Islamist insurgents intensified an offensive to seize the few remaining neighborhoods of the capital, Mogadishu, still held by the Western-backed government.
The lawmakers died after two suicide bombers disguised as government soldiers shot dead people staying at the Muna Hotel in the south of the city before blowing themselves up, the Information Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
The escalation in fighting comes weeks after the 6,100- strong African Union force that backs the government was joined by hundreds of additional Ugandan soldiers. A battalion from Burundi is also on the way and Guinea and Djibouti have pledged to send more forces to the war-torn country.
Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militia accused by the U.S. of having links to al-Qaeda, was responsible for the attack on the hotel, Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage, a spokesman for the militia, told reporters in Mogadishu. He said as many as 70 people died.
“This is a terrible act in this holy month of Ramadan,” Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said in a statement. “It shows their brutality and their lack of respect for humanity.”
Somalia’s government has been battling insurgents, including al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam, since 2007. Most of southern and central Somalia has been seized by the insurgents, while President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s administration controls only portions of Mogadishu.
The AU Mission in Somalia, known as Amisom, condemned the killings, said Boubacar Gaoussou Diarra, special representative of the chairperson of the AU Commission for Somalia.
“I, on behalf of the African Union, would like to call upon all warring parties in the Somali conflict to stop such barbaric attacks on the innocent civilian population,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
Fighting between government forces and the Islamist insurgents erupted in Mogadishu yesterday as the two sides exchanged mortar fire and al-Shabaab fighters fired rocket- propelled grenades, said Ali Muse Sheikh, a paramedic at Nationlink and Lifeline Africa. Most of the 29 victims in those clashes were women killed in central Mogadishu’s Bakara market, he said in a phone interview.
“The situation here is concerning because there is no humanitarian assistance or hospital space,” Major Barigye Ba- Hoku, spokesman for Amisom, said by phone from Mogadishu. “We are offering what we can as AMISOM in terms of medical personnel.”
Almost 4 million people in Somalia, equivalent to 40 percent of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian aid and 1.4 million residents have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict, Wafula Wamunyinyi, deputy head of the AU Mission in Somalia, told reporters yesterday in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya.
Rage, the al-Shabaab spokesman, told reporters in Mogadishu yesterday the group plans to “eradicate the invaders and apostate government troops” in Somalia.
“I call on all al-Shabaab troops, beginning at this hour, to invade and destroy all entrenchments of the apostate and Christian troops,” he said.
Somalia is host to more than 2,000 foreign fighters, from India, Pakistan and elsewhere, who are providing funds and training for terrorist operations, Wamunyinyi said.
Muse at Nationlink said at least 97 people have been injured in the fighting.
“The casualties may increase dramatically,” he said. “Our staff has been collecting casualties through the night.”
Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central administration since the ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The country is one of the poorest in the world, according to the World Bank.