New barrages of mortar fire rattle Mogadishu
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Mortar fire from Islamic extremists has pummeled large parts of the Somali capital two nights this week, raising fears among residents of a return to the days of constant conflict and prompting government and security officials to spring into action.
So far the attacks appear to have been more bark than bite. No deaths have been confirmed by officials and a hospital nurse said 12 wounded patients were treated.
But the two nights of attacks brought Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed to urge a meeting of government and security leaders to halt the mortar fire.
"Those explosions create fear in our people, we must investigate and swiftly bring to justice those behind these attacks," Ahmed told the gathering. "Our people should be able to live without fear and that is the number one responsibility of my government. I want every one of you in this room to come up with a result. This cannot be allowed to happen again."
Until this week, hospitals have long been treating injuries from accidents and disease instead of the wounds of war. The latest mortar attacks reminded nurse Sahra of the days she hauled the wounded on stretchers back and forth into the surgery wards nearly every day.
"This is a big shock," she said. "Mogadishu is no longer safe as we thought."
Government forces have already rounded up dozens of suspects and security forces are working together to ensure those behind the attacks are caught, said Abdikarim Hussein Guled, the government's minister of security.
"It was really scary. It's reminiscent of the 2010 chaos," said Halimo Aden, a mother of four who said three mortars landed in their neighborhood, wounding two people.
Mogadishu has enjoyed relative peace since August, 2011, when African Union troops pushed the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab out of the city.
Most of the mortars on Monday and Tuesday landed around the presidential palace and government buildings. Civilian homes were also hit. The prime minister said the attacks exploited gaps in the country's security.
"It really saddens me that the enemy has terrorized our people, we must deal them with an iron hand," said Sheikh.
One al-Shabab official said the attacks proved the government's claim that Mogadishu is peaceful is untrue. More attacks are coming, warned Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, the rebels' self-proclaimed mayor of Mogadishu, speaking on the militants' radio station. He predicted security forces operating in the countryside will be forced to relocate to the capital.
The attacks come one day after Somalia's military fired 700 soldiers and officials for failing to perform their duties in what appears to be an attempt to restructure the country's fractured army.
However, residents fear more attacks are coming.
"If they staged two nights' attacks in the city, why wouldn't you expect bigger ones?" said Yasin Ali, a café owner in Mogadishu. "Those attacks have even already affected our businesses. Customers had to go back home before the night for fear of mortars."