Bodies of Somali soldiers burned in street by Islamists

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The Independent Online

Islamic insurgents dragged the bodies of soldiers through the streets of the Somali capital and set them on fire, drawing crowds who threw rocks and kicked the smouldering remains during a surge of violence that killed at least 16 people and wounded dozens.

Yesterday marked some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu since the Council of Islamic Courts was driven out in December after six months in power. But the group has promised to launch a guerrilla war, and mortar attacks pound the capital nearly every day.

An Associated Press photographer saw six corpses - all either Somali soldiers or their Ethiopian allies - burned and mutilated while masked men shouted "God is great!" Women wearing head scarves and flowing dresses pounded one of the corpses with rocks as a handful of young men looked on, cheering.

"They were shouting, 'God is great' and 'We don't want infidels,'" said a resident, Abdi Jimale.

A similar scene grabbed the world's attention after Somali militiamen shot down a US Black Hawk helicopter in 1993 during a failed mission to capture a warlord. The images led to the withdrawal of UN forces and years of anarchy.

Abdinasir Hussein, who said he dragged one soldier's corpse from the back of his motorbike, said he wanted to show that Somalis will defeat the invaders, referring to the Ethiopian troops. "I'm happy to drag an Ethiopian soldier on the Mogadishu streets," he said.

Ahmed Mohamed Botaan, a clan elder, said he counted 16 bodies, seven of which were government troops. Mogadishu's hospitals reported at least seven dead and 36 wounded.

The fighting began before dawn when Somali and Ethiopian soldiers entered an insurgent stronghold in southern Mogadishu in an attempt to consolidate their power. But hundreds of masked men were waiting for them, prompting an hours-long gunfight.

An insurgent group linked to the Islamic Courts, called the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, claimed they were the target of the government offensive but that they had repulsed the attack.

"They were unable to bear the pain of bullets coming from all four directions," said a statement from the group posted on the Islamic Courts' website.

A government official said the offensive was focused on parts of the capital controlled by the Habr Gedir clan, which was a major supporter of the more radical elements of the Islamic Courts.