MOGADISHU, Somalia - A radical Islamic group that was driven from power a year ago by a Western-supported offensive is making a significant comeback in Somalia, and the government can do little to stop it, officials said yesterday, as shelling and gunbattles in the capital killed at least 17 people.
Sheik Qasim Ibrahim Nur, director of security at Somalia's National Security Ministry, said that the government has no power to resist the Council of Islamic Courts, which the United States has accused of having ties to Al Qaeda.
He said the fighters had regrouped and that they had been poised to launch a massive attack.
He added that the government has "no power to resist the Islamists."
Mortar rounds slammed into the biggest market in Mogadishu, killing 12 people and wounding more than 40 others.
Five others were killed in a separate gunbattle in the city.
The death toll was expected to rise from the latest bloodshed blamed on Islamic insurgents.
"I saw so many dead people lying on the road, I couldn't even look at them, I was so scared for my life," resident Salah Garweyne told the Associated Press.
At least 19 of those wounded by the shelling were in critical condition, said Dr. Hassan Osman Isse at Medina Hospital.
The Council of Islamic Courts has been waging an Iraq-style insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year.
"About 80 percent of Somalia is not safe and is not under control of the government," Nur told the AP.
"Islamists are planning to launch a massive attack against the [government] and its allied troops," he said.
Nur appealed for international support, saying Islamic fighters "are everywhere."
Presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamed Mohamud also said that the Muslim fighters were regrouping, and said they have "a lot of weapons and foreign fighters."
The Council of Islamic Courts was driven from power last year when Ethiopia intervened, with the tacit approval of the United States, backing the government with soldiers and fighter jets.