At Least 73 Die as Mogadishu Fighting Intensifies
MOGADISHU, Somalia, April 21 — Shells pounded Mogadishu on Saturday, killing at least 73 people and swelling a death toll already in the hundreds from battles this week pitting militias and Islamic fighters against Somali and Ethiopian troops.
The escalating fighting has sent more than 321,000 residents fleeing in the biggest refugee movement in Somalia since 1991, when the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre ushered in 16 years of anarchy.
“I counted 20 dead in the street and the sidewalk. Some were missing heads; others were so mutilated you couldn’t tell if they were men or women,” Suleman Mohammed, a resident of Mogadishu, said from the Al Barakah market area, where more than seven mortar shells landed.
Residents and medical staff reported at least 73 deaths from the incessant shelling and gunfire across the city Saturday, adding to an estimated 131 from the previous three days of violence.
The week’s final death toll is expected to soar and may come close to the estimated 1,000 casualties from a similar four-day flare-up at the end of March. Most of those killed have been civilians.
An Islamic movement ruled most of southern Somalia for the second half of 2006, before being defeated in a brief war at the turn of the year. But its fighters, backed by disgruntled members of the Hawiye clan, have regrouped to rise up against President Abdullahi Yusuf’s administration and his Ethiopian backers.
“There are a lot of deaths. I am carrying the bodies of two family members into my car now,” said one distraught resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another resident, Abdi Mohammed, said: “Six shells hit our neighborhood. One hit our neighbor’s house, killing five of the six family members who live there. My 7-year-old son and his friend were wounded.”
The United Nations and aid agencies say the refugee exodus is creating a looming humanitarian catastrophe, with disease already spreading. Many refugees are living under trees and beside roads, short of food, water and basic amenities.
Inside the city, residents described a terrifying night of near-constant shelling mixed with thunder from a storm.
Mortar rounds, apparently fired from Ethiopian positions, hit the offices of the private broadcaster HornAfrik on Saturday morning, wounding several journalists inside, witnesses said.
“We are in a state of shock. I see no end to this,” said Ali Haji, 50, a resident who took his family out of Mogadishu last month but came back to protect his house and belongings.
“I’ve had enough,” he said. “I’m abandoning the house. I am caught between two groups — Ethiopians trying to kill me because I am Somali, and insurgents not happy because I am not picking up a gun and fighting with them. I have lost all hope.”