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Inside Somalia: Under fire in Mogadishu

Al Shabaab rebels attack presidential offices during celebrations to mark 1 year in office.

Sitting waxwork still as he watched a wobbly homemade documentary celebrating the achievements of his first year Ahmed blinked, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge the blast. The besieged president is used to gunfire.

Minutes later a second mortar crashed into a patch of open concrete, just yards from the hall. Dust, smoke and the smell of cordite billowed through the latticework breeze-block walls.

A series of ear-shattering bangs followed and a gathering panic quickly spread through the hall, people looking around nervously. What was going on? What they should do?

Presidential aides rushed in waving their arms in a “go away” motion: The fire was outgoing, not incoming. AMISOM is tasked with defending the president and Villa Somalia from attack so they were firing back from tank positions at either side of the hall. There were nervous smiles
and laughs. The ceremony continued.

A mixed male and female choir took to the stage singing in the different dialects of Somalia’s main clans, a symbolic display of unity in a country so often torn apart by inter-clan battles. They struggled to be heard over the volleys of rockets firing outside.

Soldiers said the rockets were ‘katyushas’ targeting insurgent positions in Bakara Market a couple of miles away. “They have hit us so we are hitting them back,” said one.

A Ugandan peacekeeper killed in the first mortar attack, and others with injuries, were rushed across town in an armored convoy to the AMISOM base for treatment. Wounded civilians were dealt with on the spot.

A poet took to the stage as outside the hall casualties were ferried to a makeshift trauma room in the nextdoor building. One man was helped as he walked by, his arm bleeding; another was carried in a tarpaulin litter. Heavy machine gun fire thudded away in the background.

Then as the performances came to an end and the people gathered inside stood for Somalia’s national anthem a battered pickup truck arrived to collect the injured men.

One was carried out attached to a saline drip grimacing with pain, another walked holding a bloody bandaged hand aloft, a third clutched a dressing to his abdomen.

GlobalPost caught up with the president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, late last year in Chicago:

The anthem wound up and the crowd in the hall applauded as Ahmed took to the stage to deliver a speech. Outside, the pickup with its damaged human freight sped away.

Afterward a senior Ugandan officer said that two alleged collaborators had been arrested, accused of coordinating the shelling via mobile phone from within the presidential palace itself.

Later in the day reports came in that 19 people were killed and more than 30 people injured in the combat.

The deadly attacks targeting one of the handful of supposedly secure places in Mogadishu underlined again the vulnerability of the government and the fragility of life in a city that daily reasserts its reputation as one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Inside Somalia: The series

Peacekeeping: on the ground with African Union forces

Al Shabaab: a glimpse into the Islamic extremist group

A nation of poets: poetry is a political tool as powerful as the gun

Opinion: When will Somalia improve?