Mortar Attack on Market Kills as Many as 30 in Somalia

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 22 -- Mortar rounds slammed into a market in Somalia's capital Monday, killing up to 30 people, including children, and overwhelming hospitals with dozens of wounded in the worst fighting in months, witnesses said.

The violence -- extreme even by the standards of this chaotic country in the Horn of Africa -- comes as Islamist insurgents who want to topple the government appear to be gaining significant power. The government, which has failed to assert any real control since it was formed in 2004, had no comment on the bloodshed.

At least 60 people were wounded, including nine children, according to Dahir Dhere, a physician at Medina Hospital.

"There is blood everywhere, and human flesh on the walls," said Abshir Mohamed Ali, a shop owner at Mogadishu's Bakara market, where much of the carnage was centered.

Seven members of one family -- a mother, grandmother, four children and an uncle -- were among the dead, according to Sahal Mohamed Ali, who was attending their funeral. "Only the 2-year-old child survived this disaster, with minor injuries," Ali said by telephone from the funeral.

The fighting began after insurgents fired mortar shells at the capital's main airport and the presidential palace, said Ali Mohamed Siyad, who heads the Bakara market traders association. Government forces and their Ethiopian allies responded with mortar rounds and gunfire.

In the past, government officials have suspected that insurgents use the Bakara market as a base.

Militants with ties to al-Qaeda have been fighting for control since the government and its Ethiopian allies pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. But the government, riddled with corruption, has failed to deliver basic services and comes under daily attack.

Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting, and hundreds of thousands have fled Mogadishu, contributing to a massive humanitarian emergency. Foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransom.

Earlier Monday, Somali forces opened fire on kidnappers to free a German man and his Somali wife, said Muse Gelle Yusuf, governor of the northern port of Bosasso. The couple were in police custody after being freed unharmed, Yusuf said. In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said the couple were doing "well, generally speaking."

Off the country's lawless coast, heavily armed pirates stalk the seas. Fifty-seven ships have been attacked this year, most in the Gulf of Aden. The surge in attacks has prompted the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command to establish a security corridor patrolled by an international coalition of warships.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, leaving the country in the grip of violence and anarchy.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company