Somali Islamists attack key town, Six dead

Published on Wednesday 26th March 2008

Mogadishu (Somalia), March 26: Four Somali soldiers and two civilians were killed Wednesday when Islamist fighters raided a key southern town, sparking clashes, officials and a local resident said.


The incident occurred in Jowhar township, 90 kilometers north of the capital Mogadishu, when insurgents briefly took control of the area on Wednesday, agency reports said. The Islamists briefly took control of Jowhar township, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, looted government vehicles and offices and released prisoners, the official said. The government confirmed the attack but said most of its troops had gone to nearby El-Baraf village to crack down on a suspected rebel training camp. "The Islamic insurgents entered Jowhar early this morning from two directions and took control of the town after brief fighting that claimed several people including civilians," said Mohamed Hasan Jelle, an elder in the township. Officials said several government vehicles and offices had been looted and some prisoners were set free. The government confirmed the attack but said most of its troops had gone to nearby El-Baraf village to crack down on a suspected rebel training camp. "A woman, her child and four Somali government soldiers died in the fighting. I have seen their bodies and the Islamic fighters broke into the central jail and released prisoners," added Said Abdulah, a resident. Islamist spokesman Mukhtar Robbow confirmed the brief seizure and added they had taken government vehicles. "Our fighters briefly took control of Jowhar in a bid to show invaders (Ethiopian troops) and their stooges (the Somali government) how we can strike anytime," he told reporters. A government official in Mogadishu said soldiers were outside town at the time of the attack. "Government security forces had been carrying out a crackdown on insurgents in El Baraf village when the Islamists entered the town," said government official Weli Adan. Over the past year, the Mogadishu and its outlying outposts have been hit by almost daily violence pitting Ethiopian-backed Somali forces against Islamist insurgents. The guerrilla fighting has killed hundreds of civilians and forced tens of thousands to flee. Meanwhile, traders deployed private security guards to protect property in Mogadishu's private Bakara market which has been the theatre of fighting between the rival combatants in recent months. "We established our own security for the market and some are deployed on streets leading to it. Our security will not cross lines the government agreed to, but they will fight anyone that comes to their positions," said Ali Mohamed Siad, the chairman of Bakara Market Traders Committee. Siad said the government approved the move. "It is progressive step towards peace and I believe the private security men will handle the situation," added Bakara resident Abdulahi Ali Shego. Faced with an unrelenting insurgency, Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein has this week held a series of meetings with influential clan elders in a bid a garner support for his efforts to restore peace. Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre paved the way for factional clashes that have defied numerous internationally-backed bids to restore stability.