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Somalia Violence Spikes

A Somali Islamist military commander allied with the government has been shot and killed in the capital Mogadishu, a day after a lawmaker was gunned down.

In the latest violence to hit Mogadishu, Sharif Mohamud Hassan was shot and killed in the south of the city, along with one of his guards. Hassan was a commander of the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist militia now backing the country's fledgling government. Fighting broke out after government troops deployed in the area where Hassan was killed, and several people were reported wounded.

A day earlier, a member of Somalia's parliament, Abdulahi Isse Abtidoon was gunned down in a drive-by attack in northern Mogadishu.

Abtidoon, an ally of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is the first lawmaker to be killed since the country's moderate Islamist government took office in late January. Lawmakers began working in Mogadishu earlier this year.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for either attack, but Islamist insurgent groups, including al-Shabab and the Islamic Party, have been carrying out periodic attacks on government forces and their allies.

Somalia's Interior Minister Abdulkadir Ali Omar decried the attacks.

He said these kinds of killings are responsible for the problems facing the city, and they will not be tolerated. He said the government had been pursuing peace efforts, but would now have to respond to the attacks.

Omar himself was injured in an attack in the capital last month.

As the threat of piracy off Somalia's coast continues to occupy the attention of world leaders, the violence in Mogadishu provides a reminder of why piracy has gone unchecked. With Islamist insurgents in control of much of south and central Somalia, the national government's authority extends little beyond a few blocks of the capital. That absence of authority, according to many observers, provides a space for pirates to operate.

An international meeting to address political issues and aid efforts in Somalia is set for Brussels on April 23. Among those expected to attend are President Ahmed, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana.