Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Al-Shabab Fighters Seize Somali Town of Hudur

Islamist rebels seize Somali town

A Somali Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda has captured another town, the latest in a string of gains by the movement known as al-Shabab.

The rebels - who are opposed to UN-sponsored reconciliation efforts in Somalia - overpowered pro-government forces in Hudur early on Wednesday.

Four civilians in Mogadishu were killed bringing the death toll to about 50 and 120 injured from two days of fighting.

It comes days after the new president returned to the Somali capital.

Correspondents say it is the fiercest fighting since President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected by MPs in January under a UN-brokered peace deal.

The first bunch of nearly 100 lawmakers and ministers arrived in Mogadishu from Djibouti on Wednesday to help the president in his efforts to set up a new unity government.

The failed Horn of Africa state has not had a functioning national government since 1991.


BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says the spreading influence of Islamic fundamentalists allied to al-Qaeda will be viewed with considerable alarm by Somalia's neighbours - Kenya and Ethiopia - as well as by the United States.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says another 11 people died as al-Shabab fighters seized Hudur, 300km (180 miles) north-west of Mogadishu on Wednesday morning.

Most government officials fled to Hudur after Somalia's temporary seat of government, Baidoa, fell to al-Shabab last month.

In the last six months al-Shabab has captured other strategically-important areas, including the ports of Kismayo and Merca and the towns of Buloburte and Elbur.

But the movement was also forced out of the towns of Guriel and Dusamareb in the last month after clashes with rival militias and former warlords.

Back in Mogadishu, thousands of residents have been fleeing a second day of fighting in the south of the city near the presidential palace, as rebels took on African Union and pro-government troops.

Among at least four civilians killed was a child who died when a shell hit a school.

Mo'alim Mohamed Aden Yusuf, a teacher, told AP news agency by telephone: "The shell landed on the school as the students were busy studying. Blood was everywhere."

Foreign fighters

At the weekend, al-Shabab claimed a suicide attack which left 11 Burundian peacekeepers dead at a Mogadishu barracks.

Al-Shabab counts foreigners in its ranks and deputy al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri regularly issues statements in the group's support.

The movement is loosely allied with another recently formed grouping - the Islamic Party - whose forces now control parts of Mogadishu.

The fragile transitional government has been left with little more than sections of the capital under its control.

Ethiopian troops, which had been in the country since 2006 to support that government, pulled out at the end of January.

Some three million people - half the population - need food aid after years of fighting.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/02/25 13:18:14 GMT

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
17:23 Mecca time, 14:23 GMT

Civilians dead in Somalia clashes

Renewed fighting has targeted AU peacekepeers from Uganda and Burundi

At least 48 civilians have been killed in two-days of fighting between Somali rebel fighters and African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, a rights group said.

More than 90 people were injured in the clashes, Ali Yasin Gedi, the vice-chairman of the local Elman Peace and Human Rights group, said on Wednesday.

Witnesses said at least 15 rebel al-Shabab fighters and six policemen were killed in exchanges of gunfire and mortar bombs, which have rocked the coastal capital since Tuesday.

The latest violence has flared up just days after Sharif Ahmed, the new Somali president, returned to the coastal city to form an inclusive unity government - the 15th attempt in 18 years - to bring peace to the failed Horn of Africa state.

Territorial gain

On Wednesday, al-Shabab seized control of the town of Hodur, near the Ethiopian border, from government-backed forces, residents and al-Shabab members told the AFP news agency.

Al-Shabab and allied groups control much of southern and central Somalia and want to impose their version of sharia (Islamic) law in the country.

The AU currently has about 3,200 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi in Somalia, where two years of fighting have killed more than 16,000 civilians and displaced millions from their homes.

More than a third of the population depend on aid, and large parts of Mogadishu lie empty and destroyed.

Al-Shabab and other anti-government groups regularly attack government troops and AU peacekeepers, in efforts to force them out of the country.

The rebel group gained support as one of the key factions waging war against Ethiopian troops who they said were propping up the country's previous government.

An Ethiopian withdrawal in January eased the fighting, but al-Shabab has since turned its fire on the AU force, Amisom, and the new government.

Regional diplomats hope the inclusion of Islamist groups in the new administration may marginalise groups like al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terrorist organisations and is known to have foreign fighters in its ranks.

Source: Agencies