Two children were killed following a heavy bombardment by al-Shabab militants on the southwestern Somali town of Baidoa, witnesses and officials said Saturday.
Ambulance worker Yahya Isak Hassan was among the first to arrive in the Hawlwadag neighborhood where most mortars landed.
He told VOA that 11 rounds of mortars indiscriminately hit several areas, killing the two children, both of them girls ages four and five.
Hassan said one of the girls died instantly when the mortar hit their home; the second child died in the hospital.
“She had shrapnel in her head and she died in the emergency room,” he said.
19 others were wounded in the attack. Hassan said two of the wounded are in serious condition after they were hit by shrapnel.
VOA reporter Mukhtar Atoosh said some of the mortars landed near military installations. He said some of the rounds were apparently aimed at military bases and the headquarters of the regional administration.
The mortars were being fired from the outskirts of the town, officials told a VOA reporter.
Baidoa is 245km southwest of Mogadishu and was once the seat of the Somali government. This is one of the most intense mortar attacks al-Shabab has launched on the town.
The militant group often carries out attacks in Mogadishu targeting the Presidential Palace. But stray mortars often hit residential areas causing civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, the office of the president of Somalia today announced the launch of new “massive military operations” against al-Shabab.
The office did not specify when the operations might begin but said the government has decided to “speed up” preparations for a military offensive in Lower and Middle Jubba regions.
The aim of the operation is to “liberate” al-Shabab from the towns of Jilib, Bulogudud and other locations along the Jubba River, the office of the president said.
But just hours before the announcement, the al-Shabab militant group retook Rabdhure town in the Bakool region after Somali government forces and Ethiopian troops suddenly withdrew without giving an explanation as to the reason for their pull out.