African Peacekeepers Ambushed in Somalia

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 8, 2007; 10:35 AM

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A rocket-propelled grenade attack on African Union peacekeepers and an ensuing gunbattle killed at least 10 civilians and wounded two peacekeepers in the Somali capital, witnesses and hospital officials said Thursday.

The Ugandan peacekeepers _ the first to arrive in Mogadishu in more than a decade _ were attacked Wednesday at a main intersection in one of the most dangerous and gun-infested cities in the world.

Mustaf Farah, a restaurant owner who witnessed the attack, said he heard an explosion as three armored vehicles carrying peacekeepers passed, followed by gunfire.

"We saw our customers sitting in front of the restaurant bleeding and crying out with pain and shock," he said.

Paddy Ankunda, the Ugandan forces' spokesman, told a local radio station that two peacekeepers were wounded. He would not elaborate when contacted by The Associated Press.

Botan Hirey Kheyre, a local elder, said the ambush left a horrific scene. "Both the assailants and the AU troops disappeared immediately. It was the civilians who suffered before our eyes," he said.

Somali officials said Wednesday night that three civilians were wounded in an initial explosion and the gunbattle that followed, but the casualty toll increased Thursday after hospitals started reporting the deaths.

"Ten people died as a result of their wounds," said Dahir Mohamed Mohamoud, vice chairman of Medina hospital in Mogadishu.

Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the attack would not deter the peacekeepers.

"The police are investigating the incident and the culprits will be treated with iron hands, soon," he told The Associated Press.

About 800 peacekeepers from Uganda have arrived this week, and about 200 more are expected. Insurgents fired mortars at the airport during their welcoming ceremony Tuesday, wounding one civilian.

The peacekeepers are the vanguard of a larger force authorized by the United Nations to help the government assert its authority. Several other African countries also have promised troops, but no date has been set for their arrival.

The violence shows the volatility peacekeepers face in a country that has seen little more than anarchy for more than a decade. The government, backed by Ethiopian troops, toppled a radical Islamic militia here in late December, and is struggling to keep control.

Insurgents believed to be the remnants of Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts have staged almost daily attacks against the government, its armed forces or the Ethiopian military.

The Islamic Courts' military commander, Aden Hashi Ayro, allegedly trained by al-Qaida, urged Somalis to attack peacekeepers, according to a Web posting late Wednesday.

"It is time for the Somali youth to fight the occupation by Ethiopia and others," he said. "The Muslims shall not surrender to nonbelievers."

Counterterrorism experts believe Ayro, who is in his mid-30s, received al-Qaida training in Afghanistan. He has been linked by U.N. officials to the murders of 16 people, including BBC journalist Kate Peyton. Counterterrorism officials also believe he was involved in a plot _ never carried out _ to bring down an Ethiopian airliner.


Associated Press Writer Mohamed Sheikh Nor contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press