At least five people were killed when a salvo of mortars targeting Somalia’s presidential palace missed and landed on a nearby refugee camp overnight, residents and the African Union’s peacekeeping force said on Monday.
Somalia’s al Qaeda-aligned al Shabaab rebel group said they fired more than a dozen mortars at the heavily fortified presidential compound, their second attempt to strike at the heart of the embattled government in less than a week.
Paddy Ankunda, spokesman for the AU force known as AMISOM, said some mortar rounds crashed into a camp for Somalis displaced by war and famine about 500 meters from the presidential palace.
« No mortar landed in the palace – they landed on an IDP camp and killed about six civilians, » Ankunda told Reuters.
Mogadishu resident Ali Hussein, who lives next to the squalid settlement, said one mortar killed five members of a single family.
Ankunda said it was not clear where the short-range mortars were fired from. Villa Somalia, as the presidential compound is known, is normally beyond the range of mortars launched from outside the Somali capital.
The militants did not disclose their firing point, but a location within Mogadishu would embarrass AMISOM and the government, which last week claimed they had secured all of Mogadishu.
While al Shabaab pulled out of the capital in August and African Union forces have been securing neighborhoods vacated by the Islamist rebels, the coastal city remains prone to regular attacks by suicide bombers and roadside explosions.
« See how we are serious, » said Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the spokesman for al Shabaab’s military operation. « We shall continue attacking the palace with suicide bombings and shells. »
In a separate incident, al Shabaab attacked a building housing security forces in Mogadishu’s Alikamin area, between Bakara market and Mogadishu stadium.
« We attacked security forces in a house. We killed them and destroyed the building with rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire last night, » Sheikh Mohamed Abu Abdirahman, who the militants’ refer to as the governor of Mogadishu, said.
Residents reported heavy gunfire in the area overnight but could not confirm casualties.
By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar; Editing by Richard Lough/Patrick Graham