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Somali citizens again pay war’s price

24 die after attack near leader’s plane

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Associated Press / October 23, 2009

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MOGADISHU, Somalia - Mortars fired by Islamic militants slammed into Somalia’s airport as the president was boarding a plane yesterday, sparking battles that killed at least 24 people when residential areas and a market were hit, officials said.

The president was unhurt and his plane took off safely, police said, but the deaths of civilians are fueling a growing anger toward African Union peacekeeping forces stationed in Mogadishu to help protect the UN-backed government.

Somalia’s capital sees near-daily bloodshed as a powerful insurgent group with links to Al Qaeda tries to overthrow the fragile government and push out some 5,000 AU peacekeepers. Both sides have been accused of indiscriminate shelling.

At least 20 bodies, most of them civilians, lay in the streets after yesterday’s fighting, said Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu’s ambulance service. Four people later died at the hospital. Muse said about 60 people were wounded as mortar rounds struck residential areas.

The shelling started soon after insurgents fired toward President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed’s plane, said Abdullahi Hassan Barise, police spokesman.

Yesterday’s violence - deadlier than many recent clashes in this once-beautiful seaside city - followed a pattern witnesses say is becoming common. First, insurgents fire at government or AU targets. Then, those forces respond by shelling insurgent bases, most of which lie in residential areas.

As a result, most of those killed in Somalia’s war are civilians.

But the African Union denies firing into residential areas.

An AU peacekeeping force spokesman, Barigye Bahoku, said insurgents are shelling the residential areas they control, to make it appear the AU is responsible. But many Somalis doubt such assertions.

“People have eyes and ears,’’ said Ahmed Abdulahi, a businessman in Mogadishu. “They know what is going on.’’