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8 die as violence rocks Somalian capital

Islamist fighters are blamed for a series of attacks in Mogadishu that sends residents fleeing again.

June 16, 2007|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — A string of attacks Friday in Somalia's capital, including a suicide bombing by a motorcyclist, killed eight people and wounded 10, the latest examples of a rising insurgency here aimed at toppling the transitional government.

In what appeared to be coordinated attacks, three blasts rocked different parts of Mogadishu between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The suicide bomber rammed his motorbike into a pickup truck carrying government soldiers guarding the deputy mayor, killing four people and himself, witnesses said.

"I assume they want to terrorize us, but this will not deter us," said Deputy Mayor Mohammed Osman, who was unharmed. He blamed Islamist fighters who were routed from Mogadishu in December when Ethiopian troops crossed the border to help Somalia's weak transitional government gain control of the capital.

Somalia has been without a functioning government since a 1991 coup, which plunged the nation into civil war.

Minutes after the first attack Friday, a bomb exploded outside a United Nations Development Program compound along the road to Mogadishu's airport. The blast missed a convoy of troops and killed three bystanders, including a woman selling tea, witnesses said.

A third bomb damaged a government convoy in north Mogadishu; there were no casualties.

The violence Friday followed an attack Thursday on a movie theater in Baidoa, about 140 miles northwest of the capital. Four people were killed when a grenade went off as they exited the theater. Insurgents had complained that the cinema showed movies that included nudity.

The previous night in Mogadishu, insurgents attacked Ethiopian troops in three neighborhoods at the same time, resulting in brief but heavy gun fights that echoed across the city. At least one person was reported killed.

Insurgents here say they will continue to use guerrilla tactics to unseat the transitional government and chase out Ethiopian troops, whom they view as occupying forces.

"If the infidel-backed government thinks they can win the hearts and minds of the people, they are fooling themselves," said one Islamic militant who requested anonymity. "The worst is yet to come."

He said the cinema attack and other recent strikes were the work of a group calling itself Al Shabab al Mujahedin, a wing of the former Islamic Courts Union, an alliance of religious leaders that had controlled Mogadishu until December.

U.S. and Ethiopian government officials accused the Islamic union of having links to terrorist groups.

Somalian officials said Friday that they were making progress against the insurgency. Fierce fighting from February to May killed almost 2,000 people, including many civilians, but it left the government in control of most of the capital.

Mogadishu leaders gathered Friday at an Ethiopian military base to show off the latest seizure of hundreds of weapons, including tank shells, hand grenades and missiles. Ethiopian troops have conducted house-to-house searches as part of a citywide disarmament effort.

"They are running away and we are chasing them," said Salaad Ali Jeele, the deputy defense minister. Among those captured are 26 foreign fighters, he said, all from other African nations, including Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Early this month, officials in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland said they had found foreign passports, including American and British, on the bodies of Islamic fighters who they said were killed June 1 in a U.S. airstrike.

The renewed violence in Mogadishu sent additional waves of people fleeing to camps on the city's outskirts, where shortages of food, water and medicine already are causing a humanitarian crisis for thousands of displaced families.

"There is no security at all," said Hali Sheik Mohammed, 40, a mother of eight. Her family had been living in a camp in Mogadishu for years, after being forced to abandon their home in the 1990s because of the civil war. On Thursday night, after the skirmishes between insurgents and Ethiopian troops hit close to their camp, the family fled once again. By Friday morning, they were working in the rain to assemble a hut from tree branches and plastic.

In the capital, the sound of repeated explosions Friday sent shop owners rushing to close their doors. Anxious police officers forced private cars off the main roads, prompting drivers to scurry home along the city's network of sandy alleyways.

The recent upsurge in violence coincides with the scheduled opening of a nationwide reconciliation conference in Mogadishu, an attempt to resolve Somalia's clan warfare. But after several clan leaders vowed to boycott the conference, organizers last week postponed the gathering until July 15.

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Special correspondent Abukar Albadri contributed to this report.

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