Friday, March 23, 2007

Somali News Update: Resistance Shoots Down Cargo Over Mogadishu


11 dead in cargo plane shot down over Mogadishu

Islamist fighters claim responsibility for rocket attack of plane carrying engineers, equipment for AU force.

By Ali Musa Abdi – MOGADISHU
Suspected insurgents shot down a cargo plane over Mogadishu on Friday during a third straight day of clashes with Ethiopian troops propping up the Somali government.

The Belarussian plane, with 11 people on board, was hit by a rocket shortly after takeoff from Mogadishu airport and crashed in the capital's northern Karan neigbourhood, Somali government spokesman Hussein Mohamed Muhamoud said.

"Three rockets were fired at the plane and one of them hit the plane. This is an act that will not be accepted by the Somali people and government," he said.

Local residents said the plane came down near a former flour mill.

"The government forces have surrounded the area" Muhamoud said.

Airport officials said the plane had brought engineers and equipment to Mogadishu to repair another, an Ilyushin-76 chartered by the African Union, which was hit by a rocket and seriously damaged when landing two weeks ago.

Islamist fighters opposed to the Ethiopian-backed Somali government and to African Union peacekeepers had claimed responsibility.

All 11 dead in cargo plane shot down over Mogadishu

All 11 people on board the cargo were killed, a Red Cross-Red Crescent official said.

"All the 11 are dead. Ten died on the spot and one died in hospital," the official, who asked not to be named, said on Saturday.

The Red Cross-Red Crescent, which operates at the hospital where the victims of the crash had been brought, did not specify their nationalities.

Meanwhile, around 200 African Union peacekeeping troops in a dozen armoured vehicles set up a base at the notoriously violent Mogadishu K4 junction, with equipment including mortars, heavy machine guns and three tanks.

Platoon commander colonel Peter Elwelu said they were planning to set up checkpoints there.

"We came here to secure this area and from here to conduct patrols. K4 is a very strategic junction. You have to pass here to go anywhere in Mogadishu," he said.

A small force of some 1,500 Ugandan AU troops arrived in Mogadishu earlier this month and have so far set up bases at the port, airport, and presidential palace but have not begun street patrols.

Friday's rocket attack came as fighting erupted for a third straight day in Mogadishu, breaking a ceasefire agreement between Somalia's powerful Hawiye clan and the Ethiopian army made only hours earlier.

Somali gunmen burn, drag bodies in street

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Masked gunmen dragged slain soldiers through the streets of Somalia’s capital Wednesday, then set the bodies on fire as jeering crowds threw rocks and kicked the dead after a fierce battle in a neighborhood loyal to Islamic insurgents.

At least 16 people were reported killed and dozens were wounded in the hours-long firefight, which was some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu since a radical Muslim militia was driven from the city in December after six months in power.

An Associated Press photographer saw six corpses — all soldiers for the U. N.-backed interim government or their Ethiopian allies — burned and mutilated while masked men shouted “God is great.” Women in head scarves and flowing dresses pounded one charred body with rocks.

A similar scene in Mogadishu grabbed the world’s attention in 1993 when militiamen shot down a U. S. Black Hawk helicopter during an attempt to capture a warlord and dragged around dead American soldiers. The Clinton administration pulled out U. S. troops, and U. N. peacekeepers soon followed suit, leaving Somalia to years of anarchy.

One masked man, Abdinasir Hussein, said he dragged a soldier’s corpse behind his motorbike. He told AP he wanted to show that Somalis will defeat the “invaders,” referring to the troops from neighboring Ethiopia that helped government forces defeat the Islamic militia.

“I’m happy to drag an Ethiopian soldier on the Mogadishu streets,” Hussein said.

Ahmed Mohamed Botaan, a clan elder in the neighborhood where the battle broke out before dawn, said he counted 16 bodies, seven of which were government soldiers. Mogadishu’s three hospitals reported at least seven dead and 36 wounded.

The fighting began when Somali and Ethiopian soldiers entered the insurgent stronghold in southern Mogadishu seeking to consolidate the government’s control. But hundreds of masked gunmen were waiting, and shooting raged for hours.

An insurgent group known as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, which is linked to the ousted Council of Islamic Courts, claimed it was the target of the government offensive but said its fighters repulsed the attack.

“They were unable to bear the pain of bullets coming from all four directions,” the group said in a statement posted on the Islamic militia’s Web site.

A government official, who agreed to discuss the combat situation only if not quoted by name, said the offensive focused on parts of the city controlled by the Habr Gedir clan, which supported more radical elements of the Islamic militia and opposes the interim administration.

The official said there would be more fighting. “The next week will be very hot in Mogadishu,” the official said.

President Abdullahi Yusuf’s Darod clan and the Habr Gedir are traditional enemies. Habr Gedir elders accuse Yusuf of favoring his own clansmen and recruiting only Darod into the new Somali army, aggravating Somalia’s complex mixture of clan, political and religious disputes.

The United States has supported Yusuf’s government and accuses the Islamic militia of having ties to al-Qaida terrorists.

The U. S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, who also represents American interests in Somalia, condemned Wednesday’s bloodshed but said Washington believes things are better in Somalia.

“On balance we do feel that the situation in Somalia is moving forward in a generally positive way,” Ranneberger told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when clan-based warlords ousted a longtime dictator and then began fighting among themselves.

Yusuf’s administration was set up with U. N. help but it has failed to assert control across the country. The African Union has deployed a small peacekeeping force to defend the government, but daily violence grips Mogadishu and civilians caught in the middle are suffering the most.

“The government should learn from today’s defeat. Its soldiers were dragged through the streets,” said Zainab Abdi, a mother of two children.

She urged the government to reach out to the leaders of the Islamic militia, who are in hiding and promising to wage an Iraqstyle insurgency.

“Otherwise, civilians will keep dying,” Abdi said. “Who will the government rule if their people are killed every day ?”

Information for this article was contributed from Mogadishu by Salad Duhul and Mohamed Sheikh Nor and from Nairobi by Chris Tomlinson and Malkhadir M. Muhumed of The Associated Press.

Kenya under fire for secret transfer of 88 prisoners to Somalia

Xan Rice in Nairobi
Friday March 23, 2007

Kenya's government is coming under increasing pressure to justify the covert transfers to Somalia of at least 88 people, including nine women and 17 children, who are alleged to have supported the Somali Council of Islamic Courts there.
Lawyers for the prisoners, who are now missing, have forced the authorities to release documents detailing three secret charter flights to Mogadishu and Baidoa between January 20 and February 10. Human rights activists say it is the first clear evidence in East Africa of "extraordinary renditions", used mainly by the US to interrogate prisoners in friendly countries while bypassing the legal system.

Most of the 88 prisoners, who included citizens of Britain, the US, Canada and 17 other countries, were arrested while crossing into Kenya after the defeat of the SCIC by Ethiopian troops in early January. They were flown to Nairobi, and moved between prisons for several weeks. When lawyers started challenging their detention without charge, they began to disappear.

Al-Amin Kimathi, chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, which is campaigning for the prisoners' return, said most of them had now been moved from Somalia to Ethiopia.

Manifests for the covert flights show that four Britons were among the captives on the final charter, operated by Bluebird Aviation, to Baidoa, Somalia's temporary capital, on February 10. The men were released two days later after the intervention of the Foreign Office, which sent an aircraft to Baidoa to fetch them. After being questioned in London, they were released. The whereabouts of the other prisoners, including at least 22 Kenyans, remains unknown.

Gideon Kibunja, Kenya's police spokesman, defended the transfers, saying the prisoners were "illegal immigrants".

Residents flee violence in Mogadishu

22/03/2007 - 17:23:36

Hundreds of residents fled their homes today during a second day of fighting between Islamic insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops in which at least four people were killed and six wounded.

Gunfire could still be heard intermittently, but the fighting seemed to be less fierce than the yesterday's battles during which at least 21 people were killed and more than 120 wounded.

Government officials vowed today to continue with what they described as an operation to restore law and order in Mogadishu and take on the insurgents who they said are led by a top leader of the ousted Islamic courts.

Civilians, who suffered the most casualties, however, described the fighting as bringing more misery and pain after 16 years of chaos and violence.

Residents leaving their homes got into mini-vans or taxis, with the poorer ones carrying their belongings on their heads and in plastic bags. They were moving to safer parts of the city or leaving Mogadishu altogether.

One mother-of-seven said she was forced to leave behind her husband and two of her children because they were too weak to travel.

Hadija Mad Osman said her husband was injured by shrapnel when a mortar exploded near them, and the children had diarrhoea.

"I have left my husband and two of my children lying in a makeshift house near the football stadium," Osman said. "I do not know where I am going."

Insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine-guns and government troops responded with artillery and machine-gun fire, witnesses said.

Deputy defence minister Salad Ali Jelle said the Somali government had gathered intelligence that indicated a top leader of the ousted Islamic courts, Aden Hashi Ayro, had been directing the insurgency in Mogadishu and was recently named the head of the al Qaida cell in Somalia.

He said the government had reports that Ayro was in Mogadishu.

Counter-terrorism experts believe Ayro, who is in his mid-30s, received al Qaida training in Afghanistan. UN officials have linked him to the killings of 16 people.

Counter-terrorism officials also believe he was involved in a plot - never carried out - to bring down an Ethiopian airliner.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. The current administration has failed to assert control throughout the country, and the African Union has deployed a small peacekeeping force to defend it.

But daily violence has continued in the capital, with civilians caught in the crossfire bearing the brunt of the violence.

A joint military operation in Somalia has rendered the Islamic resistance less active according to US-backed forces

Washington did not confirm whether three most wanted terrorists in Somalia were killed
Reports said Kenya has deported 80 people to Somalia

NAIROBI, March 22(Xinhua) -- A joint military operation in Somalia, which ended with the ouster of Mogadishu's ruling Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (ICU), has rendered the dreaded al-Qaeda military wing in East Africa less active, a senior U.S. official claimed.

The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger said the threat of terror still remained real, especially in Kenya, which is due to host an international marathon event, in which an American team is also participating, but the level of the threat has been degraded since the December military operation.

Ranneberger said the January operation targeted suspected terrorist training cells in Somalia, but Washington would not confirm whether the bombardments also killed its three most wanted terrorists in Somalia.

He said there were many suspected terrorists in the Horn of African nation, but the most wanted included three men under U.S. indictment for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

They include a Comorian, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Kenyan SalehAli Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani, a Sudanese. "The problem in Somalia is much bigger than just three individuals," Ambassador Rannerberger told a news conference in Nairobi on Wednesday.

In January, the U.S. Marine carried out aerial bombardments in Ras Kamboni, near the Kenyan coastal border with Somalia, also believed to host one of the biggest terror training camps in East Africa, killing villagers and livestock on both sides of the border.

U.S. officials claimed to have killed Saleh, believed to have masterminded a failed plot to bomb an Israeli Arkia Airliner jet as it took off from Mombasa's Moi International Airport with 200passengers on board in November 2002.

Saleh is also suspected of plotting the successful attack of an Israeli hotel in Kikambala, Kenya's coastal region, which left 17dead, among them, three Israeli nationals.

Abdullah Mohammed, a bomb expert believed to have assembled the explosives is also on the U.S. most wanted terror list together with al-Sudani, a Sudanese national also believed to be a key resource to the group of al-Qaeda's generals in east Africa.

U.S. officials say the al-Qaeda treat in East Africa has been greater than previously thought and their influence on the ICU was even greater and more dangerous.

"There is still a lot of fluidity, especially on Kenya. Continued efforts are going to be necessary. This (terrorism) has been an issue in East Africa for many years. The problem is much larger than the three individuals," Ranneberger told reporters.

U.S. President George W. Bush's latest focus on Somalia has left analysts wondering the specific security interests that the Americans have in Somalia.

Analysts say the U.S. turned a blind eye on Somalia for 14 years since it peacekeeping operation in Mogadishu ended in a defeat after some U.S. soldiers were killed by Somali warlords and bodies dragged in the streets of the capital.

"We are focusing on the role of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Courts," Ranneberger said.

Washington say the latest deterioration of security in Somalia, which culminated on the killing of at least 20 people on Wednesday, including several Ethiopian soldiers, whose bodies were also dragged in the streets before they were burnt, was a result of a security vacuum.

The security was left after the demise of the Islamist rulers, which Washington claims to be allies of al-Qaeda in East Africa.

"The al-Qaeda involvement was significant, especially the military wing. There has been a significant presence of the al-Qaeda military wing in the ICU," Ranneberger said.

Kenyan forces helped to tighten security around the country's common border with Somalia to stop fleeing members of the ICU from entering its territory.

Reports said Kenya has deported 80 terror suspects to Somalia. These people, some of whom are nationals of western countries, are held in jails across Somalia.

Ranneberger says Kenya should not be blamed for applying its deportation laws to the suspects, provided the laws are inconformity with international standards.

"The Somali government has confirmed to us that the people under their care are held in humane conditions in accordance with international standards," he added.

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