Hundreds of Ethiopian troops trying to protect Somalia’s fragile government went house-to-house searching for weapons and insurgents Wednesday, and authorities ordered the closure of three radio stations they accused of “supporting terrorists.”
Several people were arrested and alleged to be linked to an insurgency blamed for a string of deadly suicide bombs and other attacks. The insurgents have vowed to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war unless Somalia becomes an Islamic state.
“These operations are part of the routine security tasks carried out with the help of our friends, the Ethiopians,” Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said.
The troops also arrested Abdi Iman, a leading member of Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan, a clan spokesman said. There was no word on why Iman was arrested, said the spokesman, Ahmed Diriye.
Later Wednesday, the government ordered three Mogadishu-based radio stations — Shabelle, HornAfrik, Radio of the Holy Quran — to close.
“They have been confusing the public, violating freedom of the press and supporting terrorists,” said Information Minister Madobe Nunow Mohamed in a statement that did not specify a time frame for the closure.
Ahmed Abdi Salam, the owner of HornAfrik, protested. “It is unfortunate to shut down this radio station, which is one of the independent radio stations in the country,” he said.
All three stations have now gone off air.
In January, the government issued a one-day closure order against the three stations.
Ethiopia, the region’s military powerhouse, was vital in helping the Somali government drive out Islamic radicals who ruled much of the country for six months in 2006. But many in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent having troops from Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population. The countries fought two brutal wars, the last in 1977.
Mogadishu residents said the latest sweep had been going on since Tuesday.
“I am not a member of the insurgents, I am an independent businessman who runs a shop, but I am afraid of being arrested because I look Islamic, with my long beard and the way I dress,” said Sheik Abdulqadir.
Another resident, Shamsa Mohamed Ilmi, said her 16-year-old son was shot and killed by Ethiopian troops last week. “These troops are very suspicious, they shot him as he was trying to take his mobile phone from his pocket,” she said.
The Ethiopian troops here come under regular insurgent attacks. This week, Ethiopian troops fired at a would-be suicide bomber speeding toward their base, blowing up the car and killing the bomber and a civilian standing nearby.
On Tuesday, an aid worker was wounded and his driver killed in the capital, said Susan Sandars, a regional spokeswoman for Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. Officials were investigating the shooting. The two were not in a marked MSF car, Sandars said.
Somalia descended into chaos in 1991, when warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another. The current government was formed in 2004 with the help of the United Nations, but it has struggled to assert any real control throughout the country.
Elsewhere, fighting between two clans vying for control of Berhani village in southern Somalia has killed about 35 people since Saturday, clan elders said. Berhani is about 40 miles west of the port town of Kismayo.