Map of: the Somalian insurgency

NTVKenya video

A fierce battle in Mogadishu killed at least 21 civilians and wounded dozens Thursday, as Muslim insurgents fired on Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed‘s plane and shells rained on areas heavily populated by civilians. Peacekeepers responded with heavy artillery as the president escaped the attack. Sharif was en route to an A.U. summit on refugees and internally displaced people — of which Somalia has 19,000. Incidents such as today’s aren’t foreign to the country, which is rife with really, really radical religious groups, but some officials are worried the attacks may be the worst in the recent past.

Fighting in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.

Western security agencies say the Horn of Africa nation has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond. (Reuters)

Somalia has experienced almost constant conflict since the collapse of its central government in 1991. Al-Shabaab, a radical Islamic faction — routed by the Ethiopian forces that invaded Somalia in 2006 — which emerged from the remnants of the Union of Islamic Courts, continues to control much of southern and central Somalia, and has imposed strict Sharia law in those areas. The group’s ultimate wish is for Sharia law to reign over all of Somalia, and has fought ruthlessly for the African Union’s Mogadishu-based peacekeepers, and the moderate Sharif, to leave. Many hoped that the January election of Sharif and the departure of Ethiopian troops would stop the violence, but the insurgents — believed to have al-Qaida ties — are keeping up their almost daily attacks. According to France24, the conflict has left thousands dead and close to 1.5 million people displaced, thus far.

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