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Somali Police Intercept Car Filled with Explosives

Police in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, have intercepted a car loaded with explosives they say was going to be used against the interim government. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Mogadishu was given an exclusive, first-hand look and files this report.

Police found the car Monday at an intersection in the southern Hodan District of the capital.

Hodan District Chairman Abdi Mohamud Warsame tells VOA that two men were standing next to the vehicle, but fled when the police arrived.

Warsame says the police received a tip about a suspicious-looking car from people in the neighborhood, so they went to investigate. He says he and police officials are happy, because they believe they have prevented what could have been a terrible tragedy.

In the trunk of the white Toyota Camry, police discovered several sacks of munitions, including 40 80-millimeter mortars, a rocket, a hand grenade, and several other items the police could not identify.

The munitions were mostly old and many were rusted. No detonator cords or detonators were found in the car, suggesting that the munitions were not at the stage of being assembled into a bomb.

A Somali Islamist youth group claimed responsibility for last month's suicide car bombing, which killed five people at the Mogadishu residence of the interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, and several recent guerrilla attacks on government officials, and Ethiopian and African Union troops.

Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim government, which took power away from the Islamists in Mogadishu six months ago, insists that only extremists with links to the al-Qaida terror group are using car and roadside bombs. The government says such violence is against the Somali culture.

But the police acknowledge that without any suspects in the case, it is impossible to say whether the car belongs to Islamist insurgents or other groups opposed to the government and the Ethiopian troops who protect it.

What is clear is that Iraq-style bombings have unnerved the government, which has installed security measures now routine in capitals like Baghdad and Kabul.

Roads leading to government offices and residences are dotted with checkpoints manned by Somali and Ethiopian soldiers. Vehicles and visitors are hand-searched before entering government and public compounds. On some streets, barricades have been erected to keep out all vehicle traffic.

The head of the political and reconciliation section in the mayor's office is Abdullahi Hassan Ganey. He tells VOA that Mogadishu's mayor, Mohamed Dheere, has instituted a neighborhood-watch system throughout Mogadishu's 16 districts.

Ganey says village chiefs are working together and sharing information about anything or anyone in their neighborhoods who is suspicious. He says the system is working well in deterring potential terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, two Ethiopian rebel groups fighting for self-determination have vehemently denied joining Somali Islamists and former Somali parliamentarians in an Eritrean-based coalition, opposed to Ethiopia and the interim government here.

The rebel groups, Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front, say they have no desire to interfere in Somalia's 16-year-old civil war and they said they would never be a part of any coalition with political groups in Somalia.