Fighting rages across Somalia’s capital

NAIROBI, Kenya – Islamic and secular militias battled in Somalia’s capital Thursday, the most widespread and some of the deadliest fighting in Mogadishu in 14 years. Dozens of people were killed and thousands fled their homes on foot.

The fighting spread from northern Mogadishu, scene of fierce battles in recent weeks, into the southern and eastern parts of the city, where the Islamic Courts Union militia made a rare foray, witnesses said.

Islamic militiamen captured a strategic road junction, known as K4, and seized the historic Sahafi Hotel, owned by a member of the rival anti-terrorism Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.

The fight for control of Mogadishu comes despite a May 14 cease-fire. The alliance claims the self-appointed Islamic court leaders, who have their own militias, have links to al-Qaida, while the Islamic militants accuse the alliance of working for the CIA. U.S. officials refuse to confirm any association with the secular militia.

Renewed fighting erupted Wednesday in northern Mogadishu and killed at least six people, and more than 140 people were killed in eight days of fighting earlier this month. But residents said Thursday marked the first time since 1992 – when international forces came to Somalia, resulting in the failed U.S. troop operation featured in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” – that battles erupted in different parts of Mogadishu on the same day.

No public transport vehicles were operating in the city, and schools were closed for a second day. As night fell Thursday, the city center was largely empty, with just a few people hiding in buildings from sporadic mortar fire. Militias set up roadblocks on many streets using sandbags or old cars.

At least 48 people were killed and about 90 injured, said Abdi Ibrahim Jiya of the Somali Doctors Association, citing information the association collected from Mogadishu’s main hospitals. But he said casualty tolls were likely to rise because many civilians were unable to make it to a hospital.

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