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Deadly explosions hit Somalia mosques

Blasts indicate faction fighting within Al Shabaab but it is ordinary Somalis who suffer.

Mogadishu residents assist the wounded after two explosions at a mosque in the Somali capital, May 1, 2010. Two explosions at a mosque killed 39 worshippers, wounded scores more and hurt a senior member of the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab rebels. It was the second attack on a mosque in Bakara Market, an area of Mogadishu dominated by members of the country's two main rebel groups, Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam. (Feisal Omar/Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Another bloody week in Mogadishu was on the face of it like so many others: dozens of civilians blown to pieces or maimed by explosions, shot to death or injured.

But this week’s attacks were different, signalling a change in the fighting that rages between Islamist insurgents and the United Nations and Western-backed government.

The recent bombings indicate bitter faction fighting within the Islamist fundamentalist rebels of Al Shabaab, according to local residents.

Last Tuesday, April 27, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a new detachment established by African Union peacekeepers (AMISOM) who are attempting to gradually expand their tiny zone of control in the capital city. It was the first suicide attack in months. Later that day a landmine exploded outside the Abu Hureyra mosque in Bakara Market, an insurgent stronghold, killing one and wounding eight as they made their way to prayers.

It was the first time in Somalia’s 19-year war that a mosque had been deliberately targeted, but it was not to be the last.

On Saturday, May 1, at the Abdalla Shideye mosque where Al Shabaab insurgent leaders like to preach, noon prayers were torn apart by a double bombing, this time inside the mosque itself. And on Sunday, May 2, another mosque was bombed in the southern port city of Kismayo, an Al Shabaab stronghold, killing at least one person.

The target of Saturday’s attack appeared to be an Al Shabaab leader called Sheikh Fuad Mohamed Shongole who often delivered Saturday prayers at the mosque.

“Thirty-two people died and more than 70 were wounded in the attack,” one Al Shabaab official told Reuters. “Sheikh Fuad suffered wounds on the hands.”

Saturday’s explosion was the deadliest since December when a suicide bomber struck at a university graduation ceremony killing 27, including three government ministers.

All the main warring parties — Al Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, the government and AMISOM — have denied responsibility for the bombing but after the attack the wounded Sheikh Shongole went on local radio to blame foreign security firms working on behalf of AMISOM for the attack.

Although AMISOM frequently launches mortars and rockets into heavily populated neighborhoods, including Bakara Market, few give much credence to the accusation that it would plan deliberate bombings of public places.