Original source: morningstaronline.co.uk

Somalia’s civil war is intensifying as Islamist insurgents hit back at government attacks on rebel-held territory.

Medical workers revealed that at least 24 people had been killed in an assault by al-Shabab fighters retaliating against government troops invading an insurgent-held area in central Somalia.

Ugandan and Burundian troops, under the flag of the African Union, supported the government offensive on Thursday in which more than 40 people were killed.

But in a counter-offensive in the heart of the capital Mogadishu, al-Shabab insurgents fired mortars into a fruit market killing at least six people, while another 18 bodies were later taken to hospital, according to ambulance medic Ali Muse.

Local resident Abdi Haji Ahmed reported that “hundreds of well-armed insurgents came to our district with minibuses and pick-up trucks and immediately they started firing towards the government troops and an African Union base.”

Al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage insisted that “the government provoked us by coming into our areas, so we have a right to attack them.”

The official government of Somalia, headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is thought to have real control over just a few blocks in central Mogadishu, backed up by occasional raids mounted by African Union forces based outside the city.

Sheikh Ahmed was elected president in January after an occupation by forces from neighbouring Ethiopia, and backed by the US, came to an end.

Al-Shabab has since resisted the government’s attempts to assert control over more of the country, claiming that it is a “secular” government that does not represent Somalia’s Muslims.