Mortars strike Somali airport, taking 2 lives

A Somali woman is wheeled into the Medina hospital after being wounded by a mortar shell after a mortar attack on the Mogadishu International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. Gunmen launched several mortars at Mogadishu International Airport on Wednesda (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

AP

A Somali woman is wheeled into the Medina hospital after being wounded by a mortar shell after a mortar attack on the Mogadishu International Airport, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. Gunmen launched several mortars at Mogadishu International Airport on Wednesda (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

By The Associated Press

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Gunmen launched mortars Wednesday on Mogadishu International Airport, killing at least two people, a day after powerful troops from neighboring Ethiopia began withdrawing from this chaotic nation.

Also Wednesday, U.S. defense officials said the United States launched an airstrike earlier this week in Somalia against suspected terrorists – the second attack this month.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the strike was carried out in secret by an Air Force AC-130 gunship earlier this week, provided few details and were uncertain whether it suceeded.

Wednesday’s mortar attack in Mogadishu came as Ethiopian troops began pulling out after helping the Somali government drive a radical Islamic militia out of the capital and much of southern Somalia. Ethiopia’s intervention last month prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for Somalia’s 2-year-old government.

Without Ethiopia’s tanks and fighter jets, the government could barely assert control outside one town and couldn’t enter the capital, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts. The U.S. accused the group of having ties to al-Qaida.

Abdilkabir Salad, who was at the gate of the airport when the mortars fell, said he saw two corpses. Another witness, Abdi Mohamed, said he saw three wounded men who were hit with shrapnel.

“Two mortars landed inside the airport and the other outside,” Mohamed said. “There were three planes on the runway when the attack happened.”

The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, who also represents U.S. interests in Somalia, met Wednesday with a top leader of the ousted Islamic movement in Nairobi, Kenya, according to an embassy official who refused to elaborate.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, considered by American officials a moderate who could contribute to rebuilding Somalia, turned himself in to authorities in Kenya because he apparently was afraid for his life.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, when asked whether he believed Ahmed should be part of the peace process, said: “As far as I know, Sheik Sharif doesn’t represent anybody.” He also said “quite a few” Somali fighters captured by his forces were being held in Ethiopia. He declined to elaborate.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to confirm any new strike but said that in general the United States is “going to go after al-Qaida in the global war on terrorism wherever it takes us.”

AP writers Robert Burns in Washington, Mohamed Olad Hassan and Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu and Les Neuhaus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.