Image: Somalis carry wounded student
Abdurrahman Warsameh  /  AP file
Residents help a wounded student to a stretcher outside the Medina hospital in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on Tuesday.
updated 2/25/2009 7:48:24 PM ET 2009-02-26T00:48:24

An artillery shell killed two schoolchildren in the Somali capital on Wednesday during the second day of fighting between AU peacekeepers and Islamist insurgents, witnesses and officials said. Elsewhere, Islamists seized a key southern town from pro-government forces.

"The shell landed on the school as the students were busy studying. Blood was everywhere. It was shocking," Mo'alim Mohamed Aden Yusuf, who teaches at the Islamic school near an AU base, told The Associated Press by phone.

Yusuf said two pupils under 10 years old were killed and four others injured.

Mogadishu's police chief Abdi Hassan Awale confirmed Islamic insurgents had briefly attacked the AU peacekeeping base in southern Mogadishu for the second day and Somali government soldiers and African Union troops fought back.

Wednesday's fighting died down after a while, residents said, but many still piled into minibuses with their belongings or used donkey carts to carry their possessions as they left southern Mogadishu for safer parts of the city.

U.N. condemns attacks
The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks on African Union peacekeepers in Somalia and urged Somalis to support the country's new government and reject violence and extremism. But council members made no mention of their previously expressed intention to have a U.N. peacekeeping force take over from the AU force.

In separate fighting, Islamist al-Shabab fighters chased the pro-government militia from Hudur town, 230 miles (370 kilometers) southwest of the capital. The pro-government fighters had fled to Hudur after the Islamists chased them from the parliamentary seat of Baidoa last month. Baidoa had been the last major town fully under government control.

"We have evicted the robbers and the city is now calm," Islamist Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal told The Associated Press. "They used to harass residents and rob them of their money."

Aden Sarensor, a pro-government militia commander, said his forces withdrew from Hudur after Islamist gunmen attacked from three directions for three hours. He said his forces are now are in El Berde town near the Ethiopian border.

Local elder Ali Isaq Doyow said 11 people were killed during the battle, mostly fighters.

War-ravaged Somalia is carved up into fiefdoms by clan warlords who often form rapidly shifting alliances. The government now directly controls only a few blocks of the capital and El Berde. But since moderate Islamist Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed became president of the new government in January, he has allies among the militias that control much of central and pockets of southern Somalia.

Links to al-Qaida?
Ahmed split from more hardline Islamist elements last year. His former allies, primarily the al-Shabab militia, control most of southern Somalia. The U.S. State Department says al-Shabab has links to al-Qaida.

Sheik Muse Abdi Arale, the spokesman for the Islamic Party, a coalition of four Islamic groups that does not include al-Shabab, said his group was responsible for Tuesday's and Wednesday's attacks in the capital.

"We will not stop fighting," said Arale. "The so-called AU peacekeepers should leave our country and then Somalis will be able to negotiate their interests."

Barigye Bahoku, spokesman for the AU force, said they would not attack anyone but had a right to self-defense.

At least 29 people were killed in Tuesday's fighting in Mogadishu, said Ali Sheikh Yasin Fadhaa, the head of the independent Elman Human Rights Organization. The death toll is gathered from hospitals, residents and cemeteries.

Fadhaa's group estimates 17,000 people fled their homes Tuesday in southern Mogadishu to seek refuge in other parts of the capital.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew a socialist dictator. They then turned on each other, plunging the Horn of Africa nation into anarchy and chaos.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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