Mortars hit Somali presidential palace, Yusuf inside
By Sahal Abdulle
MOGADISHU, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Five mortars slammed into Somalia's presidential palace on Friday night and gunfire rattled across Mogadishu in the latest violence in chaotic Somalia, witnesses and officials said.
"Eight mortar shells were fired at Villa Somalia, but only five hit. The other three went into nearby houses," a senior government source told Reuters, saying President Abdullahi Yusuf was inside at the time of the attack.
After the mortar attacks, assailants with machineguns ran towards the building where they fought presidential guards around the hilltop compound for about 20 minutes before retreating, witnesses said.
Suspicion fell immediately on Somali Islamists, who controlled most of the south until an offensive by the government and allied Ethiopian troops over Christmas and the New Year drove them out of Mogadishu.
Now scattered to remote parts of the south near the border with Kenya, the Islamists have vowed a guerrilla war. Two ex-fighters told Reuters earlier on Friday they had returned to Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean coast and were planning attacks on Villa Somalia and other targets.
"Many Islamists have started infiltrating Mogadishu again," one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Yusuf arrived in the city days ago to take up residence in the bullet and mortar-scarred building that used to house former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, whose ouster by warlords in 1991 ushered in the last 16 years of anarchy in the Horn of Africa nation.
It was not yet known if the 72-year-old Yusuf or any other of the occupants were hurt during the attack.
Asked if there were deaths, the government source said: "It is complicated. I cannot confirm at the moment."
As the attack began after dark, more than a dozen explosions boomed across Mogadishu and gunfire cracked out to break a lull in violence of several days in the war-scarred capital, a Reuters witness said.
"We heard shelling. But the government and Ethiopian troops forced us inside when we came out to see what had happened," said a local resident, who identified himself as Siyaad. "Now they are guarding the compound."
Ethiopian troops, who helped the Somali interim government drive the Islamists out of Mogadishu, have in past days been the target of attacks. The Islamists regard the Ethiopians as illegitimate occupiers.
A Somali government bodyguard reached by telephone said Friday night's attack was launched from a school just a few blocks north of the white-washed presidential compound.
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