BELETWEIN, Somalia Apr 20 (Garowe Online) -
At least 9 people were killed including civilians in central Somalia Monday after fierce fighting erupted among Islamist factions, Radio Garowe reports.
The fighting erupted around noon and was still continuing into the early evening, as fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) rulers in Hiran region and Hizbul Islam faction fought for control of Beletwein, the provincial capital.
The battle was preceded by an overnight explosion, where an employee with Somali money-wiring transfer Amal Express was wounded after a hand grenade was thrown into his home. A female relative was also wounded the blast and both victims were taken to Beletwein General Hospital, witnesses said.
Fighters loyal to the ICU administration in Beletwein driving three armed trucks were reportedly searching for the attackers Monday morning when they arrived at a base belonging to Hizbul Islam faction, independent sources told Puntland-based Radio Garowe.
At least 32 wounded victims were rushed to two local hospitals. Medical sources confirmed that 23 victims were being treated at Hiran Voluntary Hospital and 9 wounded victims were admitted to the Beletwein General Hospital, operated by the MSF-Swiss aid group.
Businesses were shut down and the movement of people and traffic restricted, as the fighting spread onto city streets and heavy weapons like mortars were used, our correspondent in Beletwein reports.
Traditional elders and religious clerics are reportedly spearheading efforts to stop the fighting. ICU officials in Beletwein have not commented publicly about the battle, but Hizbul Islam members blamed the ICU militia for "attacking" their base.
Hizbul Islam was formed last January when four Islamist factions merged to form a united front and fight against the interim government, led by ex-ICU chief Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
In 2006, all of Somalia's Islamist groups were united under the ICU banner but the movement broke apart during the Ethiopian army's two-year military intervention in Mogadishu and other parts of south-central Somalia.
Source: Garowe Online