More than a dozen gunmen attacked two police bases in Mogadishu early Wednesday with rocket-propelled grenades, sparking firefights that killed at least two people, witnesses and police said.The attacks came just hours after a landmine exploded Tuesday night, prompting another gunbattle that witnesses said killed eight people. A government spokesman said he had heard about the civilian deaths but he declined to comment.
Insurgents, along with clan militiamen, have been battling government and allied Ethiopian forces since they drove an Islamic movement, known as the Council of Islamic Courts, from Mogadishu six months ago. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
Wednesday’s attacks started around midnight in southern Mogadishu’s Tribunka Square.
“About 15 men armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns fired RPGs at the base before a heavy exchange of gunfire,” said Gacal Yusuf, a night watchman at a nearby house.
Regional police commissioner Ali Said said a police officer was killed in the attack.
The second attack was around the same time in northern Mogadishu, and a civilian was killed, police said.
“They attacked us and we fended them off,” police officer Mohammad Omar said. “A civilian was caught in the crossfire.” Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammad Siad Barre and then turned against each another, defending clan fiefdoms. The government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but has struggled to assert any real control.
In recent months, fighters linked to the Council of Islamic Courts have vowed to launch an Iraq-style insurgency unless Somalia becomes an Islamic state.
Tuesday’s landmine attack was believed to have targeted an Ethiopian convoy, police and witnesses said.
Abdishakur Abdi Rahman, who was driving a bus that was passing as the blast went off, said the Ethiopians opened fire on his vehicle after the blast.
“The explosion occurred as the Ethiopians were passing us, then they opened fire on us,” he said. “Two passengers were killed and my conductor was wounded.” Haji Mahmoud Igaal told the AP that his three teenage relatives and three others also were killed.
The account could not be confirmed, Ethiopian troops do not talk to the press. Somali government spokesman Abdi Haji Goobdoon said: “I heard about the landmine targeting the Ethiopians and the civilian casualties but I cannot comment.” Also Tuesday, the government offered amnesty to former members of the courts, saying it was a sign of goodwill ahead of a planned peace conference.