Somalia mortar attack kills at least 17

/ Source: The Associated Press

Mortar shells slammed into a busy market in Somalia's capital Monday, killing at least 17 people, after a failed insurgent attack on the presidential palace.

Also Monday, a remote-controlled land mine killed a Somali driver and wounded two aid workers, an Italian and a Somali, in the port town of Merka, some 60 miles southwest of Mogadishu. The aid workers' injuries were not critical, said Dr. Abdi Rahman of Merka Hospital, who treated the men.

Witnesses said those killed in the capital included a 13-year-old. The fighting started when insurgents fired mortars at the presidential palace but missed, military spokesman Dahir Hersi said.

Al-Shabab, a radical group on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mortar shells then slammed into the bustling Bakara Market, where people can buy everything from packets of rice and sugar to grenades and AK-47s. The government suspects insurgents use the market as a base and it often comes under attack.

Twenty-four humanitarian workers have been killed in Somalia this year. On Monday, 52 aid groups issued a joint statement calling for international help for the devastated people.

"The international community has completely failed Somali civilians," the statement said. It appealed to the warring sides to allow aid workers unhindered access to all parts of Somalia.

"The poorest of Mogadishu's residents have no means to flee the extreme violence and have limited means to earn a living, leaving them completely dependent on humanitarian assistance," the statement said.

Violence becomes commonplace

Somalia is among the most violent and impoverished countries in the world. The arid nation of some 8 million people has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991 then turned on each other.

A quarter of Somali children die before they turn 5, and nearly every public institution has crumbled. Fighting and violent deaths occur daily.

Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida have been battling the government and its Ethiopian allies since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. Within weeks of being driven out, the Islamists launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.

In recent months, the militants appear to be gaining strength. The group has taken over the port of Kismayo, Somalia's third-largest city, and dismantled pro-government roadblocks. They also effectively closed the Mogadishu airport by threatening to attack any plane using it.