IV. Mogadishu Under Siege: January–April 2007

By the end of January 2007 three main actors emerged in the looming military confrontation: the insurgency, the Ethiopian armed forces, and the forces supporting the Transitional Federal Government.86

The Ethiopian government has closely guarded details of the number of troops deployed in Somalia and statistics of casualties incurred in the fighting, but credible sources told Human Rights Watch that by early 2007 Ethiopia may have had as many as 30,000 troops in Somalia.87 In 2006 Ethiopian military convoys carrying troops and military materiel came into Somalia regularly from Ethiopia, passing through Beletweyne town, in Somalia’s Hiran region.88 Ethiopian forces deployed in Mogadishu in early 2007 included infantry and air support.

The Ethiopians provided the backbone of the military power on the side of the TFG, which itself brought an estimated 5,000 fighters into Mogadishu. The bulk of the TFG forces consist of militias from President Yusuf’s home region, Puntland, and members of the Rahanweyn Resistance Army.89 Most of these militia forces had basic military training by the Ethiopians in Manaas and Daynuunay former military barracks in Bay region in 2006.90 Ethiopian military officers also gave up to 3,000 newly recruited Somali government militias a few weeks of training at Balidogle airport early in 2007.91

While much remains unknown about its organization, membership, and leadership, it is widely believed that the insurgency consists of three groups:92

The first group is comprised of members of Al-Shabaab, a well-trained militia and the core of the group that led the Islamic Courts to victory during their rise to power in mid-2006. Many observers believe that Al-Shabaab consisted of between 500 and 700 fighters, largely from the Hawiye and Ogaden clans. Sheikh Hassan Turki is reportedly their spiritual leader while their operational commander is Adan Hashi Ayrow.93

The second group consists of members of the Hawiye clan militia who loathed the presence of the TFG leadership and the Ethiopian military in Mogadishu. These comprised perhaps the largest group in terms of numbers within the insurgency; the leadership and organizational structure of these militia is unclear.

The third group consists of disgruntled fighters and nationalists who opposed Ethiopian involvement in Somalia’s affairs. It too has no known leadership.94

Although Hawiye fighters constituted the largest group in terms of numbers, some analysts believe that Al-Shabaab members are the backbone of the insurgency and provided discipline and strategy for all groups.95 All the groups seem to have respected the brief ceasefires negotiated on their behalf by the Hawiye elders (see below).

Initially, many of the Somali media reports referred to the insurgency as “unidentified groups.”96 The international media described the armed groups in Mogadishu as “insurgents” or “remnants of the ICU,” while by February 2007 many residents of Mogadishu referred to them as Muqaawama [the Resistance].97

A witness told Human Rights Watch, “The fighters were a mixture of the ICU, Al-Itihaad, Al-Shabaab, but the majority were Hawiye clan fighters. They had defenses in the areas where they fought against the government, hiding behind concrete walls. They were firing weapons—they would fire and then leave the area. They would come to the people and say, “This is our jihad, come out and join us.”98

Hurtling Toward Conflict

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi arrived in Mogadishu on December 29, 2006, the first senior TFG official to return to the capital.99 Among his first public statements was a request to clan elders to surrender the three men wanted by the US as alleged al Qaeda affiliates.100 In another exercise to signal the government’s arrival, on January 1, 2007, he ordered that all weapons be handed over to TFG forces within three days or Mogadishu residents would face forced disarmament.101 The order did not go down well with some of the clans in Mogadishu.102

Within a week of the TFG and Ethiopian army’s arrival in Mogadishu the first insurgent attacks began.103 Ethiopian and TFG forces responded by sealing off areas around the attack sites and conducting house-to-house searches.104 The TFG also passed a three-month emergency law in parliament on January 13, 2007.105 The provisions of the emergency law gave the TFG much wider powers and allowed President Yusuf to rule by decree.106

Between January and March 2007 insurgent attacks took several forms: assassinations of government officials; attacks on military convoys; and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) or mortar attacks on police stations, TFG and Ethiopian military bases, or other locations or individuals deemed by the insurgency to be political or military targets. For instance, several hotels known to accommodate TFG officials, such as the Ambassador, Global, and Lafweyne Hotels, were repeatedly hit with RPGs and mortar rounds and were the site of attempted assassinations of TFG officials (see Map 1).107

The insurgency was mobile, often using hit-and-run tactics in its attacks or setting up and launching mortar rounds within minutes, then melting back into the civilian population. After an insurgent attack on a convoy or other mobile target, Ethiopian and TFG forces typically sealed off the area and conducted house-to-house searches of the area. The Ethiopian and TFG response to mortar attacks increasingly included the return firing of mortars and rockets in the direction of origin of insurgency fire.

On March 1 President Yusuf announced plans to hold a National Reconciliation Congress (NRC) on April 16,108 but also maintained that it would not negotiate with those responsible for the attacks in the capital.109 Many of Mogadishu’s residents distrusted the TFG’s capacity to implement genuine and effective reconciliation, feared potential reprisals, and were concerned about the Ethiopian presence and agenda in Somalia.110 As insurgent attacks escalated, the government made further security announcements to the effect that the capital would be a safe venue for the meeting111: Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle announced that Mogadishu would be secured in 30 days.112 Media reports indicated that Mogadishu residents were nervous and concerned after the government's announcements. In the words of one resident, “There is fear that it will lead to more violence and more displacement if not properly handled.”113

Many Somalis talked about the possibility of the Mogadishu situation reviving clan-based hostilities. For instance, many in Mogadishu who belong to the Hawiye clan distrusted the president, a member of the Darod clan. The Hawiye elders who later arranged ceasefire agreements with the Ethiopian military claimed in several statements that the president was instigating the hostility in Mogadishu in order to exact revenge on the Hawiye, who had been responsible for many abuses against the Darod during the civil war of the early 1990s.114 Many Hawiye felt the security operations were aimed at disarming them, one of the biggest reasons they were opposed to the security operation announced by the deputy defense minister.115

The attacks and counter-attacks between the insurgency and the Ethiopian and TFG forces steadily escalated in March 2007. Insurgent tactics took a new twist when they also resorted to suicide bombings.116

The 1,500-member African Union force of Ugandan troops deployed in Mogadishu in early March had a limited mandate and did not become directly involved in the hostilities, although the troops occupied key positions at the airport and the TFG base at Villa Somalia.117

On March 21 and 22, 2007, the TFG launched its first major disarmament operation. Insurgent groups ambushed an Ethiopian and TFG convoy near the Ministry of Defense and fighting spread to several neighborhoods. At least 200 wounded people were brought to Mogadishu’s hospitals.118 More than 20 TFG militiamen were captured by the insurgency. The insurgents summarily executed several of the captured fighters and dragged their burned bodies through the streets.

A March 26 suicide attack on an Ethiopian base just outside Mogadishu, and the Ethiopian army’s apparent determination to occupy more strategic locations in the city appear to have been among the catalysts for a serious escalation in the fighting.119

March 29 marked the start of the first round of major fighting between the insurgency and the Ethiopian forces. In the period from March 29 to April 1, several districts of Mogadishu that were either perceived to be insurgent strongholds or were located in strategic areas received the full brunt of Ethiopian offensives and bombardment (see Map 2).

Neighborhoods like Casa Populare (KPP) in the south, Towfiq and Ali Kamin around the Stadium, all along Industrial Road, and the road from the Stadium to Villa Somalia were heavily shelled or repeatedly hit by Ethiopian BM-21 multiple-rocket-launcher and mortar rounds.120 The Ethiopian military objective appeared to be to capture the Stadium and control the main roads leading to it from the Ministry of Defense and Villa Somalia. During the course of the bombardment, the insurgency continued to use neighborhoods around the Stadium to fight and shell Ethiopian and TFG targets, and to ambush Ethiopian convoys, particularly during the battle for the Stadium.

The impact of the fighting on the civilian population was devastating. Reports from local human rights groups claimed that nearly 400 civilians were killed in the first round of fighting, although these figures could not be corroborated.121 Local Hawiye clan elders and the Ethiopians negotiated a brief ceasefire beginning April 2, 2007, to collect the dead,122 but shooting and sporadic rocket exchanges continued. Tens of thousands of people used the brief respite in the bombardment to flee the city.123

On April 18, amid spiraling conflict and tension, particularly following another suicide bombing aimed at an Ethiopian barrack, the second round of fighting began.124 Ethiopian forces resumed heavy artillery shelling and rocket barrages, which expanded to new areas of the city, such as in the northeast around the Ramadan Hotel and the Pasta Factory. The Ethiopian aim in this offensive was clearly to take the Pasta Factory, which was thought to be an insurgent base and a strategic junction.

The second round of fighting ended abruptly on April 26 when the insurgency apparently and unexpectedly dissipated and the TFG announced victory.125 The second bout of fighting was alleged to have claimed at least 300 civilian lives, again a figure that could not be independently verified. Although the shelling was described as even heavier than in the first round (March 29 to April 2), civilian casualties in the second round were estimated to be fewer because many people had already fled the city.

By late April the UN estimated that at least 365,000 people had fled the city.126 In the days and weeks during and following the end of the fighting on April 26, humanitarian agencies trying to reach the displaced around Mogadishu were obstructed by TFG restrictions that included onerous limitations on aid convoys and on movement into Mogadishu. This prompted key governments such as the US and the EU to issue several statements and condemnations in late April.

Since May 2007 it has been increasingly apparent that the March and April fighting did not stem the insurgency. Roadside bombings and assassination attempts targeting TFG officials resumed in May and have continued on an almost daily basis. Attempts to convene the reconciliation conference were postponed by the TFG, first until mid-June, and then to mid-July.127

Many details about the specific events, intent, and acts of the warring parties remain murky. However, what is abundantly clear in reviewing the events of January to June 2007 in Mogadishu is that none of the three main warring parties—the insurgency, the Ethiopian forces, and the forces of the transitional Somali government—have made any meaningful efforts to protect civilians. On the contrary, the military strategies used by all parties during the events in Mogadishu demonstrate a wanton disregard for civilian life and property in violation of international humanitarian law. When committed with criminal intent—evident for instance in the Ethiopian area bombardments of populated neighborhoods—such violations amounted to war crimes.

Regional and international actors likewise did little to help protect the civilian population: the African Union peacekeeping mission was constrained by its mandate and was apparently unwilling to act on behalf of civilians during Mogadishu’s worst fighting in 15 years, despite having some 1,500 troops on the ground. Key players with strategic involvement in the region like the US and the EU failed even to condemn the abuses as they were happening, remarking only on obstruction to humanitarian relief. As has been the case for more than a decade, the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians was met with almost total silence.

86 The term Transitional Federal Government and Somali government are used interchangeably in this report.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with diplomatic officials, Nairobi, May 29, 2007.

88 Confidential communications on file with Human Rights Watch, November 2006.

89 Human Rights Watch interviews, Nairobi and Mogadishu, April–May 2007.

90 “Training closed for up to 3000 army members” (Ciidamo gaaraya 3 kun oo manta tababar loogu xiray Daynuunay), Wardheer News, November 18, 2006, (accessed July 10, 2007); “Somali President, Abdullahi Yusuf, visits Manaas barracks at Baidoa outskirt” (Madaxweynaha Soomaaliya C/laahi Yusuf Axmed oo booqday xerada Manaas oo kutaala Duleedka Magalada Baydhabo), Mudugonline, May 29, 2006, (accessed July 10, 2007).

91 Confidential communication on file with Human Rights Watch, March 23, 2007. See also “Somalia gov't set to relocate to Mogadishu,” Xinhua, March 8, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

92 Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses, politicians, diplomats, and others, Nairobi and Somalia, April–May 2007. See also Jean-Philippe Rémy, “The Ceasefire is Very Fragile in Mogadishu” (Le cessez-le feu est très fragile à Mogadisciu), audio report, Le Monde Panorama, April 5, 2007,,11-0@2-3212,32-892545@51-754471@1-6551,0.html (accessed July 14, 2007).

93 Human Rights Watch interviews with analysts, journalists, and diplomats, Nairobi, 2007. See also International Crisis Group, “Counter-Terrorism in Somalia,” pp. 5-7.

94 Human Rights Watch was told by at least one interviewee, a civilian, that sometimes the insurgencyfighters operating in a Mogadishu neighborhood offered people cash to join them. Human Rights Watch interview with a resident of Towfiq neighborhood (name withheld), Bosaso, May 7, 2007.

95 Human Rights Watch interviews (names withheld), Mogadishu, May 2007. See also “PM says time for Somalia pull out, AU desperate for Ethiopia stay over,” Daily Monitor (Kampala), May 16, 2007, reproduced at (accessed July 17, 2007).

96 “Ethiopian troops under attack,” Reuters, January 8, 2007, reproduced at (accessed August 2, 2007).

97 In this report the term insurgency is generally used to refer to the various armed groups who were responsible for attacks on Ethiopian or TFG forces. The term “Muqaawama” (“the Resistance” in Somali), is used only when individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch specifically used that term.

98 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Nairobi, April 28, 2007.

99 Mike Pflanz, “Cheering Crowds line the streets of Mogadishu as army moves in,” Daily Telegraph (London), December 30, 2006, (accessed July 14, 2007).

100 Rob Crilly, “Hunt for Al Qaeda men in Mogadishu,” Sunday Times (London), December 31, 2006.

101 “Somalis stroll Mogadishu under eye of gov’t victors,” Reuters, January 1, 2007, reproduced at (accessed June 28, 2007). See also “Somali PM announces Mogadishu disarmament plan,” ABC News Online, (accessed June 28, 2007).

102“Violence flares in Somalia over disarmament,” ABC News Online, January 7, 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007); “'Somalia's Political Future Appears to be its Pre-Courts Past,” Power and Interest News Report, January 17, 2007, (accessed July 11, 2007).

103 On January 5, 2007, an alleged statement from al Qaeda urging Somalis to fight Ethiopian forces was posted on the internet. It is unclear whether there was any connection between the alleged statements and growing insurgent activity, although TFG and Ethiopian officials claimed this was the case. “Al-Qaeda No. 2 urges Somali Islamists to fight ‘crusaders,’” Associated Press, January 5, 2007, reproduced at (accessed August 2, 2007).

104 “Ethiopian troops kill 3 people in Somalia,” Associated Press, January 23, 2007, reproduced at (accessed July 11, 2007).

105 “Somali Parliament approves martial law,” CBC News, January 13, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

106 Although the emergency law was only supposed to be valid for three months, and was never extended, it took almost six months for the speaker of the Parliament to announce that the law had expired. “Parliament Speaker: Martial Law Over,”, July 8, 2007, (accessed July 9, 2007).

107 “Mortar attacks in Somalia kill five, wound 10,” Associated Press, February 12, 2007, reproduced at (accessed July 17, 2007).

108 “Somalia Sets Date for National Reconciliation Conference,” Xinhua, March 2, 2007, reproduced at (accessed June 28, 2007).

109 Steve Bloomfield, “Scores dead in battle-ravaged Somali capital,” Independent (London), April 1, 2007, (accessed August 1, 2007).

110 Alisha Ryu, “Analyst says Somalia a handicap for Ethiopia,” VOA News, March 28, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

111 “Somali President’s home attacked,” BBC News Online, March 13, 2007, (accessed June 28, 2007).

112 “Somalia: Government pledges to secure capital in 30 days,” IRINnews, March 12, 2007, reproduced at (accessed June 27, 2007).

113  Ibid.

114 Andrew McGregor, “The Leading Factions behind the Somali Insurgency,” Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, vol. 5, no. 8, April 8, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007.

115 Alisha Ryu, “Somali clan opposes Disarmament Plan,” VOA News, March 12, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

116 The first suicide bombing took place in September 2006. There have been at least five suicide attacks since then: November 30, 2006, and March 26, April 18, April 24, and June 3, 2007.

117 The mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), as described in UN Security Council Resolution 1744, is limited to supporting the political dialogue, protecting the Transitional Federal Institutions, and “[t]o contribute, as may be requested and within capabilities, to the creation of the necessary security conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance.” It does not include protection of civilians. United Nations Security Council, Resolution 1744, (S/RES/1744) February 21, 2007, (accessed August 5, 2007).

118 Human Rights Watch interview with aid official, Nairobi, April 2007.

119 Mohamed Olad Hassan, “Bodies of Somali soldiers burned in street by Islamist fighters,” Independent (London), March 22, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

120 For a detailed description of the fighting by an international journalist who was in Mogadishu throughout the March 29-April 2 period see Jean-Philippe Rémy, “Between Two Bombardments, Population of Mogadishu Tries to Flee Combat Zone” (Entre deux bombardements, la population de Mogadisciu tente de fuire les zones de combats), Le Monde, April 2, 2007.

121 “381 die in 4 days of Somali war: human rights group,” CBC News, April 2, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

122 Salad Dhuhul, “Mogadishu buries its dead after week of fierce fighting,” Independent (London), April 5, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

123 “Clashes threaten Somali ceasefire,” BBC News Online, April 11, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

124 It is unclear who was responsible for the attack and whether the incident was connected to an earlier statement from a senior ICU leader. Two days earlier, former ICU chairman Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was interviewed by Al Jazeera in Qatar, had said, “There is no Al Qaida in Somalia.” Salad Dahul, “Islamic leader says Al Qaida does not exist in Somalia,” Associated Press, April 16, 2007. Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle alleged that al Qaeda was responsible for the April 18 suicide attack, but it is unclear on what evidence he based the allegation. Salad Duhul, “Al Qaida blamed for suicide car bombing at Ethiopian army base in Somalia,” Associated Press, April 19, 2007.

125 “Premier claims Somali ‘victory,’” BBC News Online, April 26, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

126 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Situation Report: Somalia, April 27, 2007,” April 27, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).

127 “Somali conference postponed again,” BBC News Online, June 13, 2007, (accessed July 17, 2007).