Somali rebels fortify defences, blast kills six in capital
Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:44pm GMT
* Residents flee Afmadow ahead of Kenyan offensive
* Suicide car bomb kills six in Mogadishu
* Somali general says rebels hold two Spanish hostages (Adds Somali interior
minister para 16)
By Sahra Abdi and Mohamed Ahmed
MOGADISHU, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked militants prepared to defend a
south Somali town on Tuesday from advancing Kenyan and government troops,
while a suicide car bomb killed six people in Mogadishu during a visit by a
Facing muddy terrain and heavy rains, residents tried to flee Afmadow as the
town braced for the next phase of an offensive launched on Sunday by Kenya,
along with Somali forces, in a risky bid to secure the border with its
The operation is a major escalation that risks dragging Kenya deeper into
Somalia's two-decade-old civil war.
But a spate of kidnappings in Kenya by gunmen thought to be linked to al
Shabaab led Nairobi to conclude that with its multi-billion dollar tourism
industry at stake it had no option but to strike back.
Highlighting the level of anarchy and conflict gripping Somalia, a suicide
car bomb exploded near two government ministries in Mogadishu on Tuesday,
killing six people, an ambulance worker said, in the second such attack in
the capital this month.
A high-level Kenyan delegation was in the city at the time of the blast. In
a joint statement Kenya and Somalia agreed they would carry out preemptive
strikes on militants that threatened the security of either country.
AFMADOW BRACES FOR ATTACK
Warplanes swooped low over Afmadow, a rebel stronghold which serves as
transit point for goods from Kismayu port. A senior commander of a militia
group allied to the Western-backed Somali government said his fighters were
stationed outside Afmadow as pounding rain slowed the advance.
"We are in the village of Cag Libaax, 12 km (8 miles) to the west of
Afmadow. We are heading to Afmadow but we are slowed by rains and muddy
soils," said Abdinasir Serar.
Afmadow resident Hussein Osman Roble told Reuters by telephone that most
residents had started fleeing towards Dhobley, a border area which Kenyan
military sources say has now been cleared of militants.
"Jets have flown low over Afmadow, terrifying the residents, while al
Shabaab is digging trenches and tunnels for defense inside and around
Afmadow," Roble said.
Meanwhile, al Shabaab has dug trenches around the town and assembled columns
of fighters and dozens of battle-wagons mounted with heavy machine guns.
Kenyan officials have remained tight-lipped on the details of the operation
but a military spokesman said Kenyan troops were 100 km inside Somalia in
Qoqani, which is about 30 km to the west of Afmadow.
"It's difficult to estimate the length of our operation," said Major
In a joint communique with the Somali government, Kenyan Foreign Affairs
Minister Moses Wetang'ula said the spate of kidnappings was indicative of a
change in strategy by al Shabaab to "terrorise citizens".
Both countries pledged to cooperate in "undertaking security and military
operations in the Lower Juba (border) regions of Somalia and to undertake
coordinated pre-emptive action and pursuit of any armed elements that
continue to threaten and attack both countries," the statement said.
The blast in Mogadishu hit the busy Kilometre 5 area near two hospitals and
close to the foreign and planning ministries and about three kilometres away
from where a meeting between high level Kenyan and Somali officials had been
Somali Interior Minister Abdisamad Moalim Mohamud confirmed the attack and
said the government would give cash rewards to anyone who provides
information about potential suicide attacks.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but al Shabaab had vowed
to attack more government installations when they pulled out most of their
fighters from Mogadishu and analysts had warned the insurgents would shift
their tactics to more al Qaeda-style attacks.
The rebels claimed responsibility for an attack two weeks ago in Mogadishu
which left more than 70 people dead, the biggest attack by al Shabaab since
2007 in Somalia, where they have been waging an insurgency to topple a
government it sees as a puppet of the West.
The rebels have urged Somalis to pick up arms and threatened retaliation
against Kenya for the military operation, warning Nairobi they would take
the "flames of war" back across the frontier if Kenya did not withdraw its
SHABAAB REPRISALS IN KENYA?
Kenya, East Africa's biggest economy, has long looked nervously at its
anarchic neighbour and its troops have made brief incursions into Somali
territory in the past. This week's incursion on a larger scale could invite
"Al Shabaab has avoided attacks (inside Kenya) so far because it benefits
too much from the illegal shipment of goods from Kismayu into Kenya and from
financial supporters in the Somali community in Kenya," said David Shinn, a
former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia.
"Al Shabaab may conclude that the Kenyan action must be responded to,
however, and the easiest way to do this is to carry out terrorist attacks
inside Kenya. This would really ratchet up tension in the Horn," he said.
Separately, a Somali army general said rebels were holding two Spanish aid
worker hostages, and had moved them north to their stronghold Kismayu as
Kenyan and Somali forces closed in.
"Al Shabaab is holding them in Kismayu," General Yusuf Hussein Dunmaal, who
commands Somalia's southern forces, told Reuters by telephone.
The militants have denied responsibility for kidnapping the Spaniards,
seized from a refugee camp in Kenya where they were assisting fleeing
Somalis, or for two other kidnappings of Westerners in Kenya. They say the
kidnappings are being used as a pretext to launch the cross-border
operation. (Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mohamed, Abdi Sheikh and Feisal
Omar in Mogadishu, Richard Lough and Beatrice Gachenge in Nairobi; Writing
by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sophie Hares)
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Received on Tue Oct 18 2011 - 17:08:34 EDT