At least nine people have been found dead at a mosque in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Residents say the victims, a number of them clerics from the mosque, were killed by Ethiopian troops during a weekend of heavy fighting with insurgent groups. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi.
|Somalians prepare body of man killed in clashes in Mogadishu, 21 Apr 2008|
Several of those killed are religious leaders from a major Sufi Islamic sect. According to Ali Hersi, who says he witnessed the event, the mosque's imam, Saed Yayhe, who is also the sect's leader in Somalia, was among the dead.
Hersi says Ethiopian troops rounded up at least 20 people from the mosque and surrounding areas, and killed them in the mosque's parking lot.
"People were collected from their homes and they were killed deliberately," Hersi said. "They were not fighting. Most of them were elders."
He says the troops also arrested more than 30 people around the mosque, including 12 Koranic students.
A spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Information, Zemedkun Tekle dismissed charges of Ethiopian involvement in the killings . He told VOA such claims are "pure allegations aimed at damaging the image of Ethiopian troops and getting them to leave Somalia."
Residents of Mogadishu have been assessing the aftermath of a weekend of fighting between Ethiopian troops backing the transitional government and Islamist-led insurgents. New bodies were still being found Monday. Some estimates of the number of people killed in the clashes are as high as 100.
A Mogadishu resident who declined to be named, says the fighting began after Ethiopian troops entered an area in the north of the city seen as an insurgent stronghold.
"After fighting for a few hours, the Ethiopians began to shell the areas," he said. "Heavy shelling has occurred which has not been seen for the past few months. Shelling with mortars, tank shells, and also Katyusha rockets."
Somalia's prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, said the Ethiopian troops were defending themselves after being attacked by insurgents.
With many residents afraid to recover the bodies of those killed, the number of casualties is difficult to assess. The local Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization says 81 people were killed Saturday and Sunday.
From the Eritrean capital Asmara, Zakaria Haji-Abdi, deputy chairman of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, a moderate Islamic insurgent group, said the figure was higher.
"The Ethiopian tanks and artillery are inside the capital city of Somalia and are shelling indiscriminately the Somali people," Haji-Abdi said. " Only yesterday, they have killed more than 100 people, women and children, and old."
Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's Transitional Federal Government ousted the Islamic Courts Union from control of the capital, Mogadishu, in December 2006, but have since struggled to contain a growing insurgency involving several Islamist and clan-based militias opposed to the presence of Ethiopian troops.
Residents say the bulk of the insurgents involved in Monday's fighting were former members of the Islamic Courts Union aligned with Haji-Abdi's Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, rather than members of the more radical Shabaab. The United States recently designated the Shabaab as a terrorist organization.
Mogadishu returned to relative calm on Monday, with many residents taking the opportunity to flee. More than a million Somalis have been displaced by the conflict.
U.N. officials have called Somalia Africa's worst humanitarian crisis and warn that the situation continues to deteriorate.