Somalia's Al Shabab militants gain ground
Calm returned Monday after four days of heavy fighting in Mogadishu between the extremist group, Al Shabab, and pro-government militias.
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The two sides traded mortar and machine gun fire for four days, though reports said calm had returned Monday. Some reports indicated that Al Shabab had tightened its grip over Mogadishu, a setback for the new government led by moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Reports also suggested that foreigners were fighting alongside Al Shabab.
Reuters spoke to an Al Shabab official who claimed his group had made gains in northern Mogadishu.
The agency also quoted one elder who said that foreigners – "long-bearded Arabs" – were taking part in the fighting.
The US has accused Al Shabab of having links with Al Qaeda, and is concerned that Somalia is increasingly a haven for terrorists, including those involved in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa.
The Somali government repeated those charges, according to Garowe Online.
An Al Shabab official told Garowe Online that "Muslims from across the world are fighting on our side."
Three Somali reporters were also wounded during the fighting, when a shell hit nearby as they were interviewing an Al Shabab member, the media outlet reported.
The BBC reported that at least 14 people were killed in a mortar attack on a mosque. At least 50 people have died in gun battles since Thursday, the agency reported, and residents have fled their homes and the city.
The Cape Times reported civilians had been caught in the crossfire.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that traffic resumed and businesses reopened Monday. It said the militants had rejected overtures and compromises from the moderate Islamist government.
United Press International cited a CNN report that quoted an unnamed Somali journalist describing the chaos in the city. The journalist said fears were running high that Al Shabab would emerge with the upper hand.
Somalia has been wracked with civil war and lawlessness since 1991, when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was removed from office. Warlords and Islamist groups have since carved up the country.
In 2006, US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded to try to restore order and bolster the flailing government. Those troops engaged in widespread clashes with Islamist groups and finally withdrew in January.