MOGADISHU, Somalia – Fighting between rival militias intensified Thursday in the Somali capital, with battles spreading across Mogadishu and at least 38 people dead and 90 wounded, medical sources and a militia commander said.
The latest fighting comes despite a May 14 cease-fire between Islamic militias and a rival alliance of secular warlords, who have been vying for control of the city. Witnesses say the fighting has spread from northern Mogadishu, which had been the scene of fierce battles in recent weeks, to the southern and eastern parts of the capital.
Reports from the Somali capital's main hospitals said at least 30 people were killed Thursday. Ali Mohamed Siyad, leader of an Islamic militia, said his group had lost eight combatants.
In addition, Medina Hospital said it had received 60 injured people and Keysaney Hospital 30.
Witnesses said Islamic militiamen had also taken over a key hotel that is owned by a member of the rival Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism.
The Islamic militiamen drove the warlords away from an area of southern Mogadishu, where the Sahafi Hotel is located, resident Saidia Mohamed said.
"The battle is continuing, I'm talking to you from under my bed and you can hear sounds of heavy gunfire and mortars," a panic-stricken Mohamed said, speaking on her mobile phone.
On Wednesday, the rival militiamen renewed fighting in northern Mogadishu for a few hours during which at least six people were killed and another six seriously wounded, witnesses and medical workers said.
More than 140 people — most noncombatants caught in the crossfire — were killed in eight days of fighting in Mogadishu earlier this month.
Somalia has been embroiled in some of the worst fighting in more than a decade in recent weeks.
The fundamentalists portray themselves as capable of bringing order to the country, which has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The Islamic militia's growth in popularity and strength, and the possibility that they have outside support, is reminiscent of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
The secular alliance, which includes members of a U.N.-backed interim government but acts independently of it, accuses the Islamic militiamen of having ties to Al Qaeda. The Islamic group accuses the secularists of being puppets of the United States.
Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, president of Somalia's near-powerless transitional national government, told The Associated Press earlier this month that he believes Washington is supporting the secular militia as a way of fighting several senior Al Qaeda operatives who are protected by radical clerics in Somalia. He called on Washington to instead work only with his government.