Suicide car bomber kills 7 in Somalia, residents flee

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A suicide bomber killed six policemen and a civilian in Somalia‘s capital yesterday and hardline Islamist insurgents warn more suicide attacks will target pro-government forces in the coming days.

Abdifatah Shaweye, deputy governor of Mogadishu, said the bomber drove a 4×4 vehicle to the gate of a police headquarters and detonated it by the guards.

“Four died on the spot, two others died of serious injuries, and one civilian (died),” a police commander, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

An upsurge in violence this month has killed nearly 200 people in Mogadishu and forced some 60 000 residents from their homes. At least 53 people have died since Friday morning, when the government attacked rebel strongholds in the city.

Neighbouring states and Western governments fear Somalia, which has been mired in civil war for 18 years, could become a base for militants linked to al Qaeda and destabilise the region, unless the new government can defeat them.

The chaos onshore has also allowed piracy to flourish off Somalia‘s coast and foreign navies are now patrolling the busy shipping lanes to try to curb attacks.

Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab, which Washington says has links to Osama bin Laden, has been spearheading the rebel offensive with allied guerrilla group Hizbul Islam. They stepped up attacks in the capital early in May.

“Abdikadir Mohamed Hasan of our Mujahideen carried out the suicide car bomb,” Sheik Husein Ali Fidow, a senior al Shabaab official told reporters in a news conference via phone.

“It was committed by a young Somalia boy born in Mogadishu. More suicide car bombs are on the way coming hours, days and months,” he said.

The United Nations says hundreds of foreign fighters have joined the rebels and an influential opposition leader told Reuters on Friday some Arabs had come to Somalia to wage holy war against the Western-backed government.

Security sources say the hardline Islamist insurgents have been planting more sophisticated roadside bombs in recent months and Iraq-style suicide attacks have become more frequent.

On Sunday morning, more Mogadishu residents took advantage of a lull in the fighting to grab some belongings and flee to sprawling refugee camps outside the crumbling city.

A young woman wearing a bright blue headscarf trudged along a dusty road with a bed mat and mattress strapped to her back and a cooking pot and kerosene lamp hanging from her arms. A woman clutching a plastic bag and a small suitcase followed.

“I call on the international community and the aid agencies to react very urgently to the worsening humanitarian situation in Somalia,” Mohamud Abdi Ibrahim, Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters on Sunday.

The UN’s refugee agency said 57 000 people had fled Mogadishu since the upsurge in violence this month.

Since the start of 2007, fighting between Islamist insurgents and pro-government forces has killed at least 17,700 civilians and driven more than a million from their homes.

About 3 million Somalis survive on emergency food aid.

Ethiopia

Even if government forces drive the rebels from Mogadishu, experts say they would struggle to control distant provinces, in a country plagued by violence since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

Ethiopia denied again reports from residents that it had sent soldiers back to Somalia, where its forces fought the insurgents for two years before withdrawing in January.

Residents in the southern Bakool region said Ethiopians in armoured vehicles and trucks had entered a town in Somalia.

“We have not sent any troops into Somalia. We have been clear about this for days now. Nothing has changed,” said Wahade Belay, spokesman for Ethiopia‘s Foreign Ministry.

AMISOM

Meanwhile, insurgents also fired mortar bombs at the presidential palace and attacked African Union peacekeepers on Saturday night.

“Opposition groups have attacked us with rocket-propelled grenades,” a senior Burundian officer told Reuters. “They are still firing at us and we shall defend ourselves.”

The African Union has some 4300 peacekeepers from Burundi and Uganda in Mogadishu to help protect key sites. Their mandate limits the force to defending itself when attacked.

Islamist insurgents took up arms in 2007 to drive out Ethiopian troops propping up a Western-backed government which failed to wield control over much of Somalia.

Since the start of 2007, fighting has killed at least 17 700 civilians and driven more than 1 million from their homes. About 3 million Somalis survive on emergency food aid.

The Ethiopians withdrew at the start of 2009 and Ahmed was elected president in neighbouring Djibouti in January. However, the insurgents have stepped up attacks on the new administration and AU peacekeepers over the past few weeks.

Somalia‘s government has accused Eritrea of supporting al Shabaab fighters with planeloads of weapons including AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The African Union (AU) stepped up pressure on Eritrea on Friday by calling for UN sanctions, a no fly-zone and a sea blockade of Somalia to stem the flow of weapons.

“(The United Nations Security Council should) impose sanctions against all those foreign actors, both within and outside the region, especially Eritrea, providing support to the armed groups,” the 53-member AU said in a statement.

Eritrea‘s president denies the allegation, saying US agents are spreading lies to blacken his government’s name.

Eritrean Information Minister Ahmed Ali Abdu told Reuters the Horn of Africa nation had recalled its ambassador to the African Union following the statement. He denied a media report saying the country had suspended its AU membership.

Until Friday, pro-government forces had not looked strong enough to break al Shabaab’s grip on parts of Mogadishu.

Last week’s defection of a veteran warlord with hundreds of fighters may have prompted Ahmed to order the new offensive.

But experts say pro-government forces would be hard-pushed to extend their reach to distant provinces, increasing the risk of protracted fighting in a country that has known little but violence and anarchy since its dictator was ousted in 1991.

An important figure in any reconciliation would be hardline opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who ran Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia alongside Ahmed in late 2006.



But he told Reuters on Friday that fighting the Western-backed government was a religious obligation and that the opposition forces would defeat the administration soon.