Fighting between Islamist insurgents and African Union peacekeepers continued on Friday killing at least 12 people in Somalia's capital, health services and witnesses said.
The clashes in the war-ravaged city marred plans to celebrate the first anniversary of the election of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was seen as Somalia’s best chance for peace in years when he came to power.
Rebels from the Shabaab group, which Washington says is al-Qaeda’s proxy in the Horn of Africa state, said they attacked government bases and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping troops before pulling back, and were then hit by shell fire themselves.
"This fighting was the worst in months," Mogadishu resident Ahmed Hashi told Reuters.
Violence in Somalia has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and uprooted a further 1.5 million people, helping to trigger one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.
Western security agencies say the country has become a safe haven for Islamist militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.
In a statement, Shabaab claimed responsibility for the overnight assault and accused the AU of bombing civilians.
"The mujahedeen attacked AMISOM and government bases last night and we killed some of their troops," the insurgents said. "When we pulled back, AMISOM began intentionally shelling residential areas. We shall keep on targeting them."
AMISOM officials could not immediately be reached.
At least 25 people were also wounded in the clashes, an officer with the ambulance service told Reuters, mostly in the capital’s Hodan Wardhigley and Howl Wadag districts.
"We were woken up by the explosions at 2 a.m. and haven’t slept since because of the non-stop shelling," said Nurta Hussein, another resident. "Two mortar bombs landed in this neighborhood, killing four civilians and wounding six."
Somalia has not had an effective central government for nearly two decades, leading to the rise of warlords, heavily armed militias and pirates terrorizing shipping off its shores.
The fragile Western-backed administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls little more than a few strategic sites in the capital. For weeks it has been promising a new offensive against Shabaab and another rebel group, Hizbul Islam, which both want to impose a harsh version of Shariah law.
Reached by telephone on Friday, Somalia’s state minister for defense, Sheikh Yusuf Mohammad Siad, a former warlord also known as "Inda’ade" or "white eyes", said government forces had killed more than 10 insurgents during the overnight fighting.
"Tension is still high," Siad told Reuters. "Their bodies still lie in the areas where the battles took place."