MOGADISHU, Somalia – Mortars slammed into a market in Somalia's capital Monday, killing up to 30 people including children and overwhelming hospitals with dozens of wounded in the worst fighting in months, witnesses said.
The violence — shocking even for this chaotic country in the Horn of Africa — comes as Islamic insurgents who want to topple the government appear to be gaining significant power. The government, which has failed to assert any real control since it was formed in 2004, had no immediate comment on the bloodshed.
At least 60 were wounded, including nine children, according to Dr. Dahir Dhere of Medina Hospital.
"There is blood everywhere, and human flesh on the walls," Abshir Mohamed Ali, a shop owner at Mogadishu's Bakara market, where much of the fighting was centered, told The Associated Press.
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Seven members of one family — a mother, grandmother, four children and an uncle — were among the dead, according to a Sahal Mohamed Ali, who was attending the funeral.
"Only the 2-year-old child survived this disaster, with minor injuries," Ali said by telephone from the funeral.
The fighting began after Islamic insurgents fired mortars at the capital's main airport and the presidential palace, said Ali Mohamed Siyad, who chairs Bakara market traders' association. Soon after, government forces and their Ethiopian allies retaliated with mortars and gunfire.
In the past, government officials have suspected insurgents use Bakara market as a base.
Siyad said he and other workers had counted about 30 bodies. Other witnesses described at least 19.
Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda have been fighting the government and its Ethiopian allies for control since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. But the government has failed to deliver any basic services, is riddled with corruption and comes under daily attack.
Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting and hundreds of thousands more have fled Mogadishu, contributing to a massive humanitarian emergency. In addition, foreigners, journalists and humanitarian workers are frequently abducted for ransoms in Somalia.
Earlier Monday, Somali forces opened fire on kidnappers to free a German man and his Somali wife, said Muse Gelle Yusuf, governor of the northern port of Bosasso.
The couple were in police custody after being freed unharmed, Yusuf said. In Berlin, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said the couple were doing "well, generally speaking."
Off the country's lawless coast, heavily armed pirates stalk the seas and 57 ships have been attacked this year, most in the Gulf of Aden. The surge in attacks has prompted the U.S. Naval Central Command to establish a security corridor patrolled by an international coalition of warships.
The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is one of the world's busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991, leaving the country in the grip of violence and anarchy.