, MOGADISHU, Jul 19 – Somalia\’s Shebab insurgents have launched a fresh drive to topple the country\’s weak president, sparking fighting in Mogadishu that killed at least 14 civilians, medics and witnesses said on Monday.
The Al Qaeda-inspired militants, who last week claimed deadly suicide bombings in Kampala, rekindled their bid to seize northeastern neighbourhoods from which they could directly threaten the transitional government\’s key infrastructure.
"The fighting broke out late Sunday and stopped overnight but resumed early Monday when the terrorist groups attacked our positions in Shibis and Abdulaziz neighbourhoods," government security official Ali Mohamed Dhere told AFP.
Both sides, who have been battling for the same districts for months, claimed victory after exchanging artillery and gunfire for hours, often causing collateral damage and civilian casualties beyond the contested areas.
It was not immediately clear how many combatants were killed in the fighting, but Ali Musa, who heads Mogadishu\’s ambulance services, said civilians once again bore the brunt of the violence.
"Our medical teams have seen the bodies of 10 civilians and collected 23 wounded," Musa said. "We also know that some people died far from the combat zone, as a result of artillery shelling."
Hussein Abdullahi, a Mogadishu resident whose Karan district did not see any fighting, said a shell smashed into a home and set it on fire, killing four civilians.
"Two of them were from the same family and the other were people who had sought refuge there when artillery fire started raining from the sky. One shell smashed into the house and killed everybody," he told AFP.
In a similar incident, a stray mortar shell struck a Koranic school in the Hamarweyn neighbourhood late Sunday.
One of the teachers, Moaliam Mohamoud Ali, said around 12 of his students were injured.
Dhere claimed that government troops repelled the rebels and killed several of them but the Shebab also declared victory.
"The soldiers of Allah launched well-planned attacks on enemy barracks and killed many," said a senior Shebab commander on condition of anonymity.
"By the will of Allah, we are now in control of the contested areas and we will keep advancing on the enemy\’s position until we seize full control," he told AFP.
Somalia\’s western-backed transitional federal government, headed by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, barely controls a few blocks housing ministries, as well as the airport and the seaport.
The embattled administration has owed its survival largely to the protection of more than 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops from the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The Shebab claimed responsibility for deadly suicide bombings that killed at least 76 people watching the World Cup final on July 11 in crowded entertainment spots in Kampala.
They said the bombings were retaliation for Uganda\’s leading role in the African force, the last thing preventing the Shebab from taking full control of the capital and raising their black flag over the presidential palace.
The Shebab accuse AMISOM of embarking on a Christian crusade against Muslim Somalia and of killing hundreds of civilians during their operations.
Sharif\’s administration reacted to the unprecedented attacks on Uganda by arguing they were proof that further international commitment was urgently needed to root out the Shebab.
Instead of yielding to Shebab pressure to pull its troops out of Mogadishu, Uganda promised to send more troops to the Somali capital and urged its neighbours to follow suit, calling for strenghtened regional resolve at this month\’s AU summit.