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Al-Shabab Launches New Attacks on Somalia's Presidential Palace

A Somali man carries the body of a one year old child who was killed by a mortar shell that slammed into a family's house Sunday night, to a grave in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, March 19, 2012.
A Somali man carries the body of a one year old child who was killed by a mortar shell that slammed into a family's house Sunday night, to a grave in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, March 19, 2012.

For two nights in a row, al-Shabab militants have attacked Somalia's presidential palace with mortars, killing five people and injuring many more.  A senior al-Shabab commander says the group is trying to switch tactics.

Attempt to spread fear

The Somali government described the latest incidents as a desperate attempt by al-Shabab to spread fear.

Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman told VOA these are the first mortar attacks he's seen in Mogadishu since the African Union force, or AMISOM, drove the militants out of the capital last year.

“[In the last] couple of nights, we have witnessed mortar attacks coming and targeting civilians.  As a result of that have caused injuries and deaths to civilians," Osman stated. "This is something that is new to Mogadishu since we have liberated the city from al-Shabab.  Now this seems to be new tactics al-Shabab are trying to deploy, which they are always good at continuing harming civilians.”

Witnesses say the first mortars, early Monday morning, landed on a displaced persons camp next to the presidential compound and killed five people.

Arrests made, security increased

Osman says security officials have made some arrests and have also doubled security in the city.

Somali government and AMISOM forces have pushed al-Shabab out of its former Mogadishu strongholds, but the group has continued to carry out sporadic rocket, bomb, and suicide attacks in the capital.

“Remnants of al-Shabab are within the population. They try to seize an opportunity to harm and now they try to make headlines that Mogadishu is not safe.  We will not allow those remnants to continue harming the population,” Osman said.

In areas around the presidential palace and government ministries, African Union forces have handed many of the security responsibilities to Somali police and the National Security Agency (NSA).

AMISOM spokesman Paddy Ankunda says they are helping the government to better protect the palace, known as Villa Somalia. “We are here to support the government and that’s why we still have few soldiers deployed around Villa Somalia to protect the seat of power.  Security agencies, police and the National Security Agency working together with AMISOM are investigating these recent mortar attacks and soon we will be able to find a solution.  We would like to halt these attacks," Ankunda said. "And the starting point is to investigate them and then we can find a solution.”

Al-Shabab's tactics

One of al-Shabab's most senior leaders aired a message on the group's radio station late Monday saying guerilla tactics are the only way to defeat AMISOM.

In a 25-minute message, Abu Zubeyr, best known as Ahmed Godane, called on other Somalis to voluntarily join the jihad, or holy war.

He also said al-Shabab is uniting with another militant faction in Puntland - possibly bringing the fight to the northern semi-autonomous region.

The group, which is allied with al-Qaida, is trying to overthrow the government and turn Somalia into a strict Islamic state.

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