A roadside bomb explosion in the Somali capital on Tuesday killed five women and a man and wounded nine other people, witnesses said.The United States, meanwhile, called for the immediate release of opposition leaders arrested by the Somali government.
The bomb went off as more than 100 women were cleaning a road in the south of the capital Mogadishu, said Khatra Yusuf Diriye.
“We were collecting garbage near Wadnaha road, when a huge explosion shook us, killing six people,” Khatra said.
“I was terrified. I went numb for minutes. I have never experienced such an explosion. Smoke and dust covered us and everyone ran for dear life.” Police arrived at the scene and immediately sealed off the area. They also fired into the air and arrested nine men, said an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
Islamic insurgents, along with clan militiamen, have been battling government and Ethiopian forces since they drove an Islamic movement from Mogadishu six months ago. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Faduma Osman of Medina Hospital said nine people â€” two men and seven women â€” injured in the blast were brought to her facility.
The US State Department issued a statement Tuesday calling on the Somali government to release faction and clan leaders currently in custody. The statement came after US diplomats met with Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Gedi in Nairobi, Kenya and they discussed an amnesty for opposition members announced by President Abdullahi Yusuf.
The United States “urged Prime Minister Gedi to ensure the immediate release of individuals currently in detention consistent with the terms of the amnesty, and prevent further harassment of the opposition and the press”, the statement said.
“We also expressed our concern that recent arrests and detentions of prominent citizens and respected non-governmental organisations in Mogadishu undermine efforts for a national dialogue and political reconciliation.” In Mogadishu, Tuesday’s blast followed a violent night in which more than a dozen gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns engaged in a fierce battle with police patrolling the northeastern Hurwa district, which is considered a hotbed of support for the Islamists.
A woman and a man were killed and two others injured when a rocket slammed into their house near the scene of the gunbattle, clan elder Haji Jama Bahlawi said.
“One of the injured is very serious as shrapnel hit him in the head,” Bahlawi said.
Col. Mohammad Omar, the police officer in charge of security in Hurwa, said his forces were ambushed by about 15 gunmen soon after the 7:00pm to 5:00am curfew came into force.
“The police returned the fire and repelled them,” Omar said. “We have arrested several suspected insurgents in connection with last night’s gunfire, which lasted about 20 minutes.” Somalia has been mired in chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammad Siad Barre and then turned against one 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.
The ousted Islamic movement ruled Mogadishu and much of southern Somali for six months last year, during which they sought to impose an Islamic state.