Battle in Mogadishu

Battle in Mogadishu

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Lying across the roof of a pick-up truck, a Somali government soldier fires at suspected militants.

On August 31, Islamist rebels blew up a car bomb and gunmen attacked a national intelligence site, where suspected militants were being held in the Somali capital.

. MOGADISHU, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Government soldiers take cover behind a wall during the battle.

The presidential compound, situated near the national intelligence site, was also attacked, using what has become a familiar tactic: a vehicle tries to blast its way through perimeter security and gunmen charge in afterwards.

. MOGADISHU, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Residents gather near the destroyed car.

The rebels did not reach the underground cells where suspected militants were being detained, said Security Ministry spokesman Mohamed Yusuf.

. MOGADISHU, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

A woman and her child walk past the bodies of suspected militants, who were laid out by Somali government troops.

Three soldiers and two civilians were killed along with seven militants, including the suicide bomber who detonated the car bomb, government officials said.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's spokesman for military operations, told Reuters that the group was behind the attack.

Al Shabaab, which wants to impose its own strict version of Islam, controlled Mogadishu and the southern region of Somalia from 2006 to 2011.

It was driven out of the capital by peacekeeping forces deployed by the African Union. However, al Shabaab remains in control of some towns and swathes of countryside.

"The situation was very unpleasant as the exchange of gunfire was deafening."
Feisal Omar, Reuters Photographer

I was sitting in a cafe drinking cold orange juice in the Hamar Weyne district of Mogadishu when I heard gunfire about a kilometre away. After listening for a while, I realised it could be coming from an area near the home of a friend of mine and so I called him to ask what was happening.

I always take my camera with me wherever I go, day and night, ready for such incidents. Some attacks occur right where I’m sitting and others can be heard from further away.

My friend told me that al Shabaab had attacked the Jilacow underground cell inside a national security compound controlled by the Somali National Security Forces. Cautiously and fearfully, I set off towards the cell where fierce fighting was taking place.

On my arrival, I came across a number of policemen defending the underground cell, standing outside. When they asked where I was going, I replied: “I am going to the scene of the fighting,” and pointed my camera in the direction of my destination.

They all laughed at me in chorus.

I assured them that I would be very careful; I have had a lot of experience in such situations so I know what to do if things become tense. I always apply the knowledge I have learnt from years of living and working in such a war zone, and from my hostile environment course.

Wearing my armoured jacket and helmet, I walked past the policemen and stepped out of the drizzling, winter rain and into a collapsing former-parliament building just in front of the underground cell.

Once inside, I managed to photograph the fighting but the situation was very unpleasant as the exchange of gunfire was deafening. After some time, I ran from the building and reached the gate of the cell where an exploded car lay.

I tried to take pictures of the car but I was ordered not to photograph anything unless the senior forces gave me the green light. And so I just stood there, because anyone who refused the order of the national security forces would end up in the cell.

While waiting for permission to take pictures, I watched the members of the security forces, who were so vigilant that they pointed guns at one another. Everyone was worried that the other soldier was a militant, whose uniforms were similar to those of the security forces.

The fighting had slowed, however, I could still hear gunfire in sporadic bursts from within the compound.

Later, when we were allowed to use our cameras, I photographed the bodies of six militants who had attacked the cell. I was also astonished to see a mother and her two-year-old son, holding hands and watching the dead bodies lying on the ground where the fighting had taken place.

Such attacks have occurred since my childhood. In Mogadishu, scenes of dead bodies and fighting have become somewhat normal over the last two decades, but that does not make them pleasant to witness.