GARISA, Somalia – Kenyan police arrested a top leader in Somalia's Islamic militant movement on Monday, a Kenyan security official said.
The leader was arrested at midmorning at a refugee camp near the Kenyan border with Somalia, the official said, quoting from a police report. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said he was on his way to the Dadaab refugee camp, 62 miles east of Garisa, to help identify the suspect.
If confirmed, the arrest could be a major step toward ending the fighting in Somalia, which began when Ethiopian troops intervened to stop the Islamic movement's advance to destroy the internationally backed government. Top movement leaders Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys and Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.
Meanwhile, Somali troops and allied Ethiopian soldiers conducted house-to-house searches Monday, pursuing gunmen who carried out an attack in the northeastern part of the capital, residents said.
Four rocket propelled grenades were fired at a convoy of Ethiopian and government troops Sunday night in Mogadishu's Hurwa district, destroying one military vehicle and triggering a 30-minute gunbattle, residents said.
"Residents in Hurwa district have stopped sending their children to school as businesses and schools were closed," said Shine Moalim Hussein, a resident in the district. "Ethiopians and Somali troops are carrying out house-to-house searches."
No official casualty figures from the attack on Sunday night were available.
"I have seen one Ethiopian military vehicle burning after it was hit by an RPG," said Hussein. "When the exchange of gunfire started at around 11 p.m., I quickly closed my small kiosk and ran for my life."
A security official of Somalia's transitional government on Monday ordered three Somali radio stations and the local office of Al-Jazeera television to be shut down indefinitely without offering any reason, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The letter, signed by Lt. Col. Ahmed Ali Hassan, director of the security services, ordered the closure of independent radio stations HornAfrik, Radio of the Holy Quran and Shabelle Radio as well as Al-Jazeera effective immediately.
"The decree orders the owners of these media houses to show up for a meeting with the national security services of the transitional government," the letter said.
"It is a sad moment for us today. The closure of Shabelle radio station is a violation of the freedom of speech in Somalia," said station director Mohamed Amin Adow. "I believe this closure of media houses will herald a sad moment for the Somali people."
Meanwhile, President Abdullahi Yusuf appointed a mayor and administration for Mogadishu on Monday. Yusuf needs to establish enough calm to allow international peacekeepers to deploy in Somalia to protect his government until it can form an effective police force and army.
The United States, the United Nations and the AU all want to deploy peacekeepers to stop Somalia from returning to clan-based violence and anarchy. But so far no African governments have responded to the call for an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for the country, although Uganda has indicated it is willing to send 1,500 peacekeepers as part of a wider mission.
A U.N. peacekeeping force including American troops met disaster in Somalia in 1993, when militiamen shot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters and battled U.S. troops, killing 18.
On Sunday, an African Union delegation was in Somalia's capital to discuss the deployment of international peacekeepers.
The AU visit came as Somali troops and allied Ethiopian soldiers struggle to disarm Mogadishu residents reluctant to give up their guns after years of fending for themselves in the chaos.
Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi condemned European criticism of last week's U.S. airstrike in Somalia, saying such strikes were necessary to fight terrorism.
U.S. officials said they carried out only one air strike and that only eight to 10 militants with ties to Al Qaeda were killed.
"The U.S. intervention in the southern part of the country is part of the international fight against terrorism. They asked us, and we authorized it. No one's sovereignty was violated," Gedi said in an interview with Rome daily La Repubblica published on Monday.