Islamist al Shabaab rebels fought Somali government troops and African Union peacekeepers in northern Mogadishu prompting doctors and children to flee a hospital being hit by stray bullets, an official said.
The al Qaeda-inspired militants, beset by financial troubles and rifts among senior commanders, withdrew most of their fighters from the Somali capital earlier this month, but are still putting up some resistance in pockets of Mogadishu and the threat of guerrilla-style attacks remains.
Al Shabaab have been waging a four-year insurgency against the Western-backed government and African Union peacekeepers who have been deployed to help keep the peace in a country plagued by two decades of civil conflict since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, Reuters reports.
The Somalia director for the SOS Children charity, Ahmed Ibrahim, told Reuters that government troops and AU peackeepers had been advancing towards the northern segment of Mogadishu for the last three or four days.
“It looks like they got some resistance from al Shabaab today,” Ahmed Ibrahim said.
“We have been getting stray bullets in the hospital. We evacuated children … Patients started running away and some of the staff fled from the hospital,” he said, adding there were still some people remaining in the complex which includes the hospital as well as a children’s orphanage.
Dahir Abdulle, a nurse at the SOS hospital described a deserted hospital ward.
“Today, anti-aircraft gun shots deafened us-then a stray bullet hit the veil of a patient’s relative. I took cover inside the dispensary. After minutes, I came out but could not see a single patient,” he told Reuters.
“Relatives rushed patients who still had I.V. drips attached to them.”
Ibrahim said the area had been quiet since al Shabaab had announced their withdrawal from Mogadishu, a move the rebels said was tactical.
“Since they announced they pulled out, we didn’t have any trouble. The level of mortar shelling had gone down, but it was only this morning when people woke up when they heard the sound of bullets and saw stray bullets landing in the area,” said Ibrahim, who is based in Nairobi.
The government and a 9,000-strong Africa peacekeeping force admit they do not control all of the capital even after the militants’ withdrawal.
The unstable security situation in Mogadishu is putting in danger tens of thousands of famine-hit Somali refugees who are streaming into the capital looking for food and complicating aid organisations’ operations in the city.
On Saturday Somalia called for the creation of a new force to protect food aid convoys and camps in Somalia, which has been hit by the worst drought in decades, putting 3.7 million Somalis at risk of starvation.