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Monday, September 22, 2008

Somali official: German citizen rescued

MOGADISHU, Somalia - A local governor says Somali forces have freed a German man and his Somali wife two days after they were kidnapped.

Muse Gelle Yusuf, governor of the northern port of Bosasso, says the couple are in police custody after being freed Monday.

Foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, leaving the country in the grip of violence and anarchy.

Witnesses: Fighting in Somali capital kills 30

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Somalia's warring sides pounded the capital with mortar rounds and gunfire Monday, killing 30 people — including a family of seven — as Islamic insurgents who want to topple the government gain significant power.

Monday's fighting pitted insurgents against government forces and their Ethiopian allies, who come under regular attack in Mogadishu, one of the most violent cities in the world. The violence left bodies in city streets. When the blasts calmed, young men ventured out to transport the gravely wounded to hospitals in rickety wheelbarrows.

"There is blood everywhere, and human flesh on the walls," Abshir Mohamed Ali, a shop owner at Bakara market, where much of the fighting was centered, told The Associated Press.

The fighting began after Islamic insurgents fired mortars at the capital's main airport and the presidential palace, said Ali Mohamed Siyad, who chairs Bakara market traders' association. Soon after, government forces and their Ethiopian allies retaliated with mortars and gunfire.

In the past, government officials have suspected insurgents use Bakara market as a base.

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

In recent weeks, the militants appear to be gaining strength and sidelining the fragile government. The group, known as the Council of Islamic Courts, has taken over the port town 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.

"We keep recruiting new fighters to prepare them for the holy war against Ethiopian troops in our country and their Somali stooges," said Sheik Muhumed, a commander with al-Shabab, the group's military wing.

The United States considers al-Shabab a terrorist group, raising fears Somalia could become a haven for al-Qaida.

The Western-backed Somali government, meanwhile, has failed to deliver any basic services and comes under daily attack. The administration had no immediate comment on Monday's bloodshed.

Among the dead in Monday's attacks were seven members of one family — a mother, grandmother, four children and an uncle — when a mortar round landed near their home. The one survivor was a 2-year-old boy who escaped with minor injuries.

"This boy will remain a reminder of this sad story," said Safiya Mohamed Dahir, the children's uncle.

He said the eldest child, a 12-year-old girl, had amassed years of heartbreaking knowledge growing up in Mogadishu.

"One thing I will always remember is how she could tell the difference between the sounds of gunfire, bombs and mortars, at her young age," Dahir said. "She would yell, 'Explosion! Mortar! And gunfire!' And now she's gone."

Dr. Dahir Dhere of Medina Hospital said at least 60 were wounded, including nine children.

Siyad said he and other workers had counted about 30 bodies. Other witnesses described at least 19.

The African Union has sent about 2,000 peacekeepers to Somalia, but they generally are confined to the airport because security is so bad in Mogadishu. The U.N. has tried to push peace talks between the government and the opposition, but a recent deal with a more moderate faction of the Islamic group seems only to have worsened the violence.

Al-Shabab, the driving force behind much of the violence, denounced the talks and did not participate.

Besides near-daily fighting in the capital, foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia. Earlier Monday, Somali forces opened fire on kidnappers to free a German man and his Somali wife, said Muse Gelle Yusuf, governor of the northern port of Bosasso.

In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said the couple were doing well.

Arid, impoverished Somalia has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991 then turned their clan-based militias on each other.


AP Writer Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.