WASHINGTON - At least six people were killed and eight others wounded Saturday when rival Somali government forces clashed in the capital, Mogadishu, officials and witnesses said.
“We have the dead bodies of at least six people and eight injured civilians have been so far admitted at our facility,” said Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, the director-general of the city’s main Madina Hospital.
Clashes erupted when Mogadishu’s Stabilization Security Unit clashed with a military unit based in the city’s Industrial Road in Hodan neighborhood.
Sounds of gunfire awakened the residents of the Hanta-Dheer area.
“It started with sporadic gun shots just before dawn prayer, and then it escalated into heavy gunfire. When I came out of the house as the day wore on, the gunfire died down. I saw the dead bodies of at least three soldiers,” said Hashi Hirey, a resident of the neighborhood.
It is not clear if those three dead soldiers included the bodies that were taken to the hospital.
Another resident, Ali Hassan, said “It was around 3 p.m. local time when we heard the first gunfire. I was shocked and ducked under my bed, hearing the loud gunshots being fired. We didn’t know it was rival government soldiers clashing. I got suspicious about some terror attack, so we were alert."
Later in the morning more government soldiers were deployed into the area and security officials were sent to go between the rival troops. What triggered the clash between the troops is still unclear.
Somalia’s defense minister, Abdurashid Abdullahi Mohamed, contacted by the VOA Somali Service, declined to give details, saying he was in a meeting with his top security officials on the matter and that he would give details later.
The intensity of the gunfire used during the clash forced residents in the neighborhood to flee to other parts of the city, where children and women carrying their belongings were seen arriving.
Another resident, Mohamed Nur Barre, said, “They were using anti-aircraft machine guns and other heavy weaponry. In recent years, we only witnessed explosions and suicide attacks by the al-Shabab militants, but such heavy gunfire in residential neighborhoods reminded us when the militants were fighting in Mogadishu in 2010, that forced us to flee.”
Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre. Subsequent governments have not been able to maintain control.
Meanwhile, as government soldiers were clashing in Mogadishu, al-Shabab militants were attacking a key town near the border with Kenya.
Speaking to VOA Somali service, the district commissioner of El-Wak town in the Gedo region, Ibrahim Guuleed Aden, said al-Shabab fighters entered the town and left after looting some properties.
“They attacked the town at dawn and briefly held as the troops retreated to the outskirt. They looted a storage facility owned by a local aid organization before they withdraw,” said Aden.
He said the attack caused no casualties.
El-Wak is on the border with Kenya, and it is a key transit point for Kenya military convoys carrying supplies to forces serving as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia known as AMISOM.
Hassan Qoyste contributed to this report.