- Associated Press - Sunday, May 23, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia | Islamist militants attacked Somalia’s presidential compound and other government positions in the capital Sunday, and at least 15 people were killed and 30 others wounded, officials and witnesses said.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed has been attending a U.N.-sponsored conference in Turkey aimed at helping the lawless Horn of Africa nation and was not in the palace at the time of the attack.

Somali insurgents repeatedly have targeted key government installations, firing mortars at the presidential palace as well as the airport and the seaport. And at least 16 civilians were killed last weekend when Islamic insurgents attacked a building where Somalia’s parliament was meeting.

Ali Ahmed, who witnessed Sunday’s fighting, said that at least six mortars landed near the palace.

A spokesman for the Somali military, Mohamed Kalmoy, accused the al Qaeda-linked militants of instigating the violence, saying his forces had killed many insurgents.

But the spokesman for the militant group al-Shabab, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, rebutted that claim.

“Our fighters attacked several positions controlled by the apostate government soldiers. We killed many of them,” he told reporters.

Somalia has been without a functioning government for 19 years, and militants control large parts of Mogadishu. The Islamic insurgents have been trying for three years to overthrow the fragile, U.N.-backed government, which is holed up in a small bit of the capital. The lawlessness has allowed the piracy trade to flourish off Somalia’s coastline.

Somali civilians have borne the brunt of nearly two decades of conflict in their country, and human rights groups and aid agencies repeatedly have accused the warring sides of targeting civilians.

“The majority of those people were killed by mortars and indiscriminate shelling,” Ali Yasin Gedi of Elman Peace and Human Rights Center said of Sunday’s violence. “It is unacceptable.”

Mr. Gedi also said eight civilians — including five from the same family — died during fighting on Friday and Saturday.

Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu’s ambulance service, said 29 civilians also were taken to hospitals, including a boy whose head was hit by shrapnel.

• ASSOCIATED PRESS can be reached at .

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