Somali insurgents capture key town near Mogadishu

May 17th, 2009 - 7:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Mogadishu, May 17 (DPA) The Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab Sunday took control of Jowhar, a key strategic town north of Mogadishu, after two hours of fierce fighting, witnesses and town elders said.
“There was fierce fighting at Jowhar’s outskirts before al-Shabaab entered Jowhar,” Mo’alim Muhidin, an elder in Jowhar, told DPA. “After that, they took full control, including the administration’s bases, like the police station.”

“They were equipped with machine guns and battle wagons and are now patrolling the streets,” he added.

Another witness in Jowhar, Ali Yusuf, said that he saw four dead bodies, including a girl killed by a stray bullet.

Prior to taking Jowhar, al-Shabaab overcame the pro-government Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militia in Garasaley, 25 km south of Jowhar.

Jowhar, which is 90 km outside Mogadishu and is the hometown of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, links Mogadishu and central Somalia.

Heavy fighting has engulfed north Mogadishu for the last 10 days as insurgents push to end the short reign of moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif, who the militants say is too close to the West.

Almost 150 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting. Hundreds more have been injured. Tens of thousands of civilians have also fled Mogadishu.

On Sunday, at least one civilian was killed and a dozen other injured near a police academy in Mogadishu after a mortar attack, witnesses told DPA.

The insurgent push is a major blow to hopes for stability in Somalia and comes after many began to hope for peace.

Somalia’s government last week accused Eritrea of arming the insurgents for the latest push. Arms were reported streaming in to Mogadishu just before the onslaught began last Thursday.

The UN and the US have backed Somalia’s claims and called on Eritrea to stop supporting the militants. An African Union force of around 4,000 troops is also backing the government in Somalia.

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