At Least 15 Killed in Fighting in Somali Capital

At least 15 civilians, including a 4-year-old child, were killed when insurgents and government soldiers pounded each other's positions with mortars in the Somali capital overnight, residents and a nurse said Monday.

Eight bodies were removed from the rubble in northern Mogadishu, said resident Osman Guled. Four bodies were found in another part of the capital, said Sharifo Hussein, who lives in Yaqshid district. Three others died at Medina hospital, said nurse Yasmin Jim'ale.

Ahmed Daud Dahir, a commander with the presidential guard, said the insurgents lobbed more than six mortars at the presidential palace but no one there was wounded. President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed was not in the palace during the attack because he is in neighboring Ethiopia for an African Union leaders meeting.

Dahir said government soldiers retaliated, hitting exactly where insurgents had fired their mortars. Insurgents have attacked the presidential palace several times in the past three years, but there has been little damage and few injuries.

Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance services, said that they took 55 people wounded in the fighting to hospitals Monday morning. Muse said they could go out Sunday night to help the wounded because it was not safe.

On Friday, the largest insurgent group, al-Shabab, launched multiple attacks on government and African Union bases sparking the heaviest fighting in a day for months in Mogadishu. As many as 19 people were killed during that episode of fighting.

Al-Shabab said it launched the attacks to pre-empt an anticipated government offensive, with the backing of the African Union, to push the group and its allies out of Mogadishu. Al-Shabab, which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization, controls much of Mogadishu as well as most of southern Somalia. The State Department also believes al-Shabab has links with Al Qaeda.

The group has been trying to overthrow Ahmed's fragile, Western-backed government. Ahmed, a former co-leader of the Islamic insurgency, has been unable to defuse the violence and faces divisions within his own ranks.

His government is the latest attempt to have an effective central government take root since Somalia's last such government in 1991. That is the year warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, then turned on each other and plunged Somalia into chaos and anarchy.