A mortar attack on the presidential palace in the Somali capital has killed at least four African Union peacekeepers and critically wounded nine others. For the past week, the peacekeeping force, protecting the country's U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu, has been battling a new round of attacks by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants.
According to the spokesman of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Barigye Ba-Hoku, a mortar round fired from an al-Shabab position near the presidential palace exploded near a contingent of Ugandan peacekeepers guarding the palace compound, also known as Villa Somalia.
Ba-Hoku called the mortar strike a "lucky hit" for the al-Qaida-linked militants, who are battling to overthrow Somalia's weak, U.N.-backed government and to force the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force.
Uganda and Burundi are the only countries contributing troops to the 6,000-member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Uganda was the target of twin suicide bombings last month in Kampala, which al-Shabab said it carried out in retaliation for Uganda's participation in the peacekeeping mission.
al-Shabab renews efforts
Vowing last week to wage a massive, final war against the government and the African Union troops, al-Shabab has renewed its efforts to seize power in the Somali capital.
Last Tuesday, two al-Shabab suicide bombers, disguised as government security forces, killed more than 30 people, including parliament members and civil servants at a Mogadishu hotel. As the fighting in the capital escalated, killing and wounding dozens more, reports suggested that hundreds of al-Shabab reinforcements had arrived from other parts of Somalia.
On Friday, al-Shabab's self-styled mayor, Ali Mohamed Hussein, said al-Shabab had captured government military bases and the Mogadishu base of pro-government Sufi Muslim militia, Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama'a.
Declaring al-Shabab victory in Friday's battle, Hussein said the extremist group was getting closer to its goal of throwing out the government. An Ahlu-Sunna official subsequently denied that the Sufi militia had been defeated and said the militia had only made a tactical retreat.
Some of the worst fighting in the Somali capital occurred the following day, as al-Shabab fighters pressed their way into Muka al-Mukarama Road, a vital thoroughfare that connects the presidential palace and government ministries to the airport.
Government soldiers, backed up by African Union firepower, beat back the al-Shabab advance. But the incident raised further questions about the government, which has not been able to stand up a security force of its own.
In the past two years, thousands of Somalis have been given police and military training by various countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and European Union member states, to keep al-Shabab at bay while the government demonstrated that it could govern and provide basic services to the people. But the majority of the recruits are believed to have defected to al-Shabab or have sold their uniform and arms and disappeared after the government failed to pay their salaries.
In a press release, Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed said the government is committed to re-establishing law and order in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia. But he said it needed far more attention and financial help from the international community.
President Sharif noted that Somalia does not receive the kind of international assistance given to other countries suffering terrorist-related violence, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, even though Somalia is facing a similar, if not more potent, enemy.