Somali insurgents fire mortars at US congressman

Islamist insurgents fired mortars towards U.S. congressman Donald Payne as he left Somalia after a rare visit by a U.S. official to the anarchic country, police said.

Somalia's capital Mogadishu is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. U.S. officials have avoided travel to the battle-scarred city due to constant fighting between factions there.

"One mortar landed at the airport when Payne's plane was due to fly and five others after he left and no one was hurt," Abukar Hassan, a police officer at Mogadishu airport, told Reuters.

Residents said three people were wounded when one of the mortars hit a nearby neighbourhood.

Somali officials said Payne had held meetings with the interim government's president and prime minister during his short visit. African Union soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia provided security for Payne.

Payne, 74, a New Jersey Democrat, is in his 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives and was first elected in 1988. He is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.

Jendayi Frazer, then top U.S. diplomat for Africa, became the first high-ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia in more than a decade when she landed in Baidoa in April 2007.

She avoided Mogadishu because of violence there, preferring to meet officials in the provincial town of Baidoa that was then the seat of the Somali parliament.

Payne criticised Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in late 2006, when Addis Ababa sent thousands of troops to crush an Islamist movement that had taken control of much of the south.

That attack ousted Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, then an Islamist leader in Mogadishu and now president of the government.

U.S. foreign policy toward the Horn of Africa nation has been haunted by a disastrous battle in Mogadishu in 1993 that killed 18 U.S. soldiers.