IMAGE: Somali women flee city
Jose Cendon  /  AFP/Getty Images
Somali women carry their belongings while fleeing heavy fighting in Mogadishu on Thursday.
updated 3/22/2007 5:51:34 PM ET 2007-03-22T21:51:34

Hundreds of residents fled their homes Thursday during a second day of fighting between Islamic insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops in which at least four people were killed and six wounded. In the southern port town of Kismayo unidentified gunmen threw a bomb late Thursday at a police station, killing one person, an official said.

Government officials vowed Thursday to continue fighting the insurgents in Mogadishu who they said are led by the newly chosen head of Somalia's al-Qaida cell, Aden Hashi Ayro. The suspected al-Qaida leader is one of the people the U.S. targeted in a January airstrike in Somalia.

Unidentified gunmen threw a bomb at the main police station in the southern port town of Kismayo, said Mayor Ibrahim Mohamed Yusuf. One woman was killed and another woman and her two children were injured in the blast because the bomb missed the station building and hit a wall separating the station from a private home, Yusuf said.

Police have sealed off the station area.

In Mogadishu, gunfire could still be heard intermittently Thursday evening, but the fighting seemed to be less fierce than the previous day's battles, during which at least 21 people were killed and more than 120 people wounded.

Exodus from city
Residents leaving their homes Thursday boarded minivans or taxis, with the poorer ones carrying their belongings on their heads and in plastic bags. They were moving to safer parts of the city or leaving Mogadishu altogether.

One woman said she was forced to leave behind her husband and two of her seven children because they were too weak to travel. Hadija Mad Osman said her husband was injured by shrapnel when a mortar exploded near them, and the children had diarrhea.

"I have left my husband and two of my children lying in a makeshift house near the football stadium," Osman said. "I do not know where I am going."

Insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy machine-guns and government troops responded with artillery and machine-gun fire in the battles in northern and southern parts of Mogadishu, witnesses said.

Other witnesses counted four bodies in different parts of the city and Dr. Ali Bile of Keysaney Hospital said the hospital had received six wounded.

"The fighting has meant the end of my life and happiness. I lost two sons in 1993 when the U.S. troops fought battles with Somali militia and now I have lost the last one," said 37-year old Shamsa Abdikadir Wehliye, whose son was killed in Wednesday's fighting.

She spoke at Medina Hospital as she tended her 50-year old husband, who was injured by shrapnel from the previous day's fighting.

Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the Somali government had gathered intelligence that Ayro, a top leader of the ousted Islamic courts, had been directing the insurgency in Mogadishu and was recently named the head of the al-Qaida cell in Somalia.

He said the government had reports that Ayro was in Mogadishu.

Afghanistan training?
Counterterrorism experts believe Ayro, who is in his mid-30s, received al-Qaida training in Afghanistan. U.N. officials have linked him to the killings of 16 people. Counterterrorism officials also believe he was involved in a plot — never carried out — to bring down an Ethiopian airliner.

U.S. officials said on Thursday they have managed to see an American, Ameer Mohamed Meshal, who has been in Ethiopian custody for the past three weeks after being caught in Kenya and deported on suspicion of being a supporter of Somalia's ousted Islamic movement.

Meshal reported to a U.S. Embassy official who visited him Wednesday that he was well and had not been mistreated while in Ethiopian custody, said Tom Casey, deputy U.S. State Department spokesman.

In Washington, Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Casey said that Ameer Mohamed Meshal was first detained in Kenya and deported to Somalia without the U.S. embassy being notified. Later Meshal was deported to Ethiopia.

"We understand that the Ethiopian Government is planning to have a hearing soon on his status. As long as he remains in custody, we will continue to provide appropriate consular support to Mr. Meshal in the same way that we would provide these services to any American citizen arrested or detained in a foreign country," Casey told The Associated Press.

Kenyan and Ethiopian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Wednesday marked some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu since a radical militia known as the Council of Islamic Courts was driven from the capital in December after six months in power. But the group has promised to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, and mortar attacks pound the capital nearly every day.

The leader of the Council of Islamic Courts, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, told the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Somali service that the insurgents and residents of Mogadishu are justified in fighting the Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies, but denied he was involved.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. The current administration has failed to assert control throughout the country, and the African Union has deployed a small peacekeeping force to defend it.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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