- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AP) - Mortar shells were fired toward Mogadishu airport as a plane carrying a U.S. congressman took off safely from the Somali capital on Monday, a police officer said.

A hospital official said 19 civilians were injured in residential areas.

None of the six fired mortar shells landed in the airport and the plane carrying New Jersey Democrat Donald Payne took off safely, said Col. Mohamed Idi, a police officer at the airport. He said no one was hurt in the airport.

Idi told The Associated Press some of the shells landed in a nearby residential area.

Medina Hospital Administrator Ali Adde said 19 civilians, mostly women and children, were injured when the shells landed in residential areas.Nine were admitted to the hospital and nine had light injuries, Adde said.

Payne, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, told reporters he met with Somalia’s president and prime minister during his one-day visit to Mogadishu to discuss piracy, security and cooperation between Somalia and the United States.

Payne spoke with reporters at a news conference in the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

Mogadishu, a lawless and gun-infested city, is one of the most dangerous places in the world.Nearly every building is crumbling or pockmarked with bullet holes. Foreigners rarely travel there, and when they do they travel under armed guard and in convoys.

In 2007, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer became the highest-ranking American envoy to visit Somalia since 1993, when rebels brought down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in Mogadishu, and then engaged U.S. soldiers in a 12-hour fire fight that left some 300 Somalis dead. The U.S. withdrew a year later.

But even she did not visit Mogadishu, instead landing in the government stronghold of Baidoa and leaving the same day.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed Payne was all right. The U.S. Embassy in Kenya said he had arrived safely in Nairobi.

“He’s safe, unharmed,” Wood said. He added that U.S. officials had given Payne a security briefing about Somalia before he went to Mogadishu and that the congressman had chosen to go anyway.

“We provided the congressman with a briefing and gave him a very frank and straightforward assessment of the security situation on the ground,” he said.

Payne’s brother William, in Newark, N.J., said he had heard about the mortar attack from his brother’s congressional office in Washington and from the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security.

He said Congressman Payne left the U.S. on Friday for Somalia, and that he was talking with leaders in Mogadishu about ways the U.S. can help stabilize Somalia. The war-ravaged country has not had an effective government for 18 years and is split among competing militias.

The congressman would have been looking for ways to work with Somali leaders to help the U.S. ship and crew that were attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, William Payne said.

“The whole family is real worried about him,” Payne said. “He left here while the pirate situation was going on and would have been involved in it.”

A five-day standoff over the hijacked ship ended late Sunday when U.S. Navy snipers killed three Somali pirates and freed the American sea captain being held at gunpoint.

“We’re trying to find out more right now,” William Payne said. “Until I hear from my brother I won’t be satisfied.”


Associated Press writers Victor Epstein in Newark, N.J., Matt Lee in Washington and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.

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