Mogadishu witnesses armed clashes between govt troops, opposition supporters
MOGADISHU (SOMALIA ) – Mogadishu witnessed gunfire and exploding rockets on Friday as government troops clashed with opposition supporters miffed over delayed polls. Experts fear the fighting could split the military along clan lines and boost the al Qaida-linked insurgency.
Video footage revealed civilians wearing facemasks, accompanied by friendly troops in red berets with ammunition belts wrapped around them, waving national flags before scattering when gunfire erupted.
“Many forces heavily attacked us, I am now on my chest in an alley. This is a massacre,” said a protester Farah Omar by phone, adding that Turkish-trained special forces troops known as Gorgor were among those wreaking havoc on demonstrators.
Yet another video showed a rocket-propelled grenade hitting a row of shops opposite the airport and exploding into flames.
Political rivalries escalating into open armed conflict will fuel the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency, which attacks civilians in East Africa to put in place their strict interpretation of the Sharia.
“The military is dissolving and many troops seemingly reverting to clan loyalties,” said Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who was the commander of Somalia’s elite US-trained Danab unit for three years.
“It’s a mess. There’s no longer any command structure whatsoever.”
“My fear is that many SNA (Somali National Army) outstations will leave their bases to come and participate in the fighting and give more ground to al Shabab. This will really empower al Shabab. Over a decade’s worth of gains might be lost,” he said.
Just hours before the demonstrations, former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed blamed governments troops for attacking a hotel where he was staying with another former president much ahead of the rally on Friday.
“Farmajo attacked us with armoured vehicles. That is dictatorship. He attacked us and residents at Maida hotel,” Ahmed said on Twitter referring to President Mohammed. “We ask all civilians to come out and respond.”
Minister of security Hassan Hundubey Jimale blamed the opposition for starting the fighting.
“Armed militia attacked government forces. We repulsed and overpowered the militias,” Jimale said in a statement.
Unless there is intervention for talks, the fighting can spread quickly and the nation has been torn asunder by civil war since 1991.
While President Mohamed, who carries the moniker “Farmajo” or “cheese”, belongs to the powerful Darod clan, most military units in and around the capital are from the Hawiye clan and they are heavily represented in the opposition alliance.
While lawmakers were due to select a new president on Feb. 8, it got delayed after the opposition accused Mohamed, who wants a second term, of including his supporters in the regional and national electoral boards.
The opposition alliance said his term has expired and he is no longer the president. The clashes will thwart the nation’s peaceful transitions, said former national security adviser, Hussein Sheikh Ali.
“Somalia – although known as a failed fragile country – has had some success in terms of power exchanging hands peacefully,” he said. “This is the first time that is under threat.”