MOGADISHU, March 20 (Reuters) - Islamist militants launched mortars at Somalia’s presidential palace for a second night running, drawing retaliatory fire from African Union peacekeepers in some of the heaviest fighting to rock the capital in months, residents said on Tuesday.
“The rebels targeted the palace but the shells landed just outside. There were no casualties,” the AU’s AMISOM force spokesman, Paddy Ankunda, told Reuters.
Some people living near Mogadishu’s presidential compound said they would flee the city, alarmed by the fiercest heavy weapons fire in the downtown area since the al Shabaab rebel group withdrew most of its forces to outlying areas.
The al Qaeda-linked insurgents said on Monday they would keep hitting the presidential compound, which also houses key government ministries, with mortars and suicide bombings.
A salvo of mortars on Sunday night killed at least five refugees from a single family, and came less than a week after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the gate of Villa Somalia, as the presidential palace is known.
Publicly AMISOM says it is not clear where the short-range mortars aimed at Villa Somalia being fired from. However, the heavily protected complex is normally considered beyond the range of mortars launched from outside the Somali capital.
Safia Ahmed said she would flee Mogadishu and return to Lafole, a rebel stronghold 17 km (11 miles) to the south which she left in February amid rumours Ugandan and Burundian soldiers would fight al Shabaab for control of the town.
“I don’t like al Shabaab but there is no shelling there,” the mother of four said. “Al Shabaab told us that those who fled to the capital would return, but we turned a deaf ear. Now it has become true.”
AMISOM said the militants also briefly attacked government troop positions in Mogadishu’s southern suburbs, near a roadblock known as Ex-control set up on one of the main roads into the city centre. The peacekeepers reported no casualties.
Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich