MOGADISHU, Oct 21 – Sporadic shooting on Friday rang out in Mogadishu and witnesses said at least three people had died, a day after Islamist rebels displayed dozens of dead bodies said to be African Union and government troops.
Somali government forces said they were pushing further into Mogadishu’s northwest Deynile district, mopping up Shabaab fighter positions within the city, following an offensive on Thursday.
“There is sporadic fighting going on in Deynile district,” Abdulahi Ibrahim, a Somali government security official said. “The forces are moving deep into the district and the enemy is fleeing.”
Heavy fighting in the Mogadishu suburb began before dawn on Thursday, as AU-backed Somali forces advanced on holdout Islamist Shabaab positions.
Witnesses said on Friday that at least three civilians had been killed in crossfire and 10 others injured, since Thursday.
“Most people are fleeing into the trees. Some people are still trapped in some parts of the district. There is crossfire. I saw the bodies of at least three civilians and more than 10 others were injured,” a witness, Ali Ganey said.
The Al Qaeda-linked militants late on Thursday laid out in an area they hold outside the capital dozens of dead bodies in military uniforms they said were Burundian soldiers with the AU force whom they had killed.
Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage boasted that the bodies of “over 70″ soldiers were displayed in the dust to reporters, claims backed up by several witnesses.
If verified, the figures would represent the heaviest losses that AU forces in Mogadishu have suffered in some around four years of bloody battles defending the weak Western-backed government against the hardline Shabaab.
African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) forces and government troops have pushed into remaining rebel areas in Mogadishu, after the bulk of the Shabaab abandoned fixed positions in August.
The Burundi army, whose troops occupy the AMISOM sector of recent fighting, did not deny the reports of losses but gave their own lower figures.
“We have lost six soldiers and 18 wounded, including four seriously,” said Burundian army spokesman Colonel Gaspard Baratuza, giving a “preliminary assessment.”
“I cannot say at this stage whether or not there are missing soldiers, because the Deynile operation continues, and the soldiers have not yet returned to their base,” he said.
Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the 9,000 strong AU force and control other sections of the anarchic capital.
The Shabaab are also battling Kenyan troops in southern Somalia, after Nairobi launched an unprecedented military incursion on Sunday against rebels they accuse of attacks and abduction of foreigners on its territory.
The Shabaab, who deny kidnapping foreigners, have warned of bloody retaliation.
“We are warning Kenyan troops against their invasion,” Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said on Friday.
“They can see what we did to their Christian brothers,” he added, a reference to the bodies he put on display after Thursday’s fighting.
Despite their pullout from much from the capital, the Shabaab have not wavered from their aim to topple the AU-protected government.
They still control large swathes of famine-struck southern and central Somalia, and remain a serious security threat.
Kenya’s military said Thursday it had seized the coastal area of Ras Kamboni, a former Shabaab stronghold just across the Somali border, without a fight but operations further inland were slowed down by heavy rains.
Six days since Nairobi declared war on the insurgents and confirmed it had moved its forces into Somalia, Kenyan’s troops were bogged down at Qoqani, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border.
The troops were preparing to push forward to seize the town of Afmadow, where Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces were fighting.
“Our troops are still trying to attack from Qoqani… and the target is Afmadow, that is where the forces are headed,” said military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir. “There has been a problem of bad weather.”
Kenyan police forces say they have beefed up security after Shabaab warnings of reprisal attacks.
Two Kenyan doctors were arrested in Nairobi Friday and charged with being members of the Shabaab.