Senior Somali Security Officials Killed This Week

Somalia's interim government has lost two of its most effective weapons against the Islamist insurgency that may have links to al-Qaida. Somalia's national security minister and the police chief of Mogadishu died in separate incidents this week.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. In Somalia, the interim government is battling an Islamist insurgency. This is an insurgency that controls much of the countryside. And now that struggling government just lost two of its most effective leaders in the fight against extremists. NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.

GWEN THOMPKINS: The national security minister of Somalia and the police chief of Mogadishu died in separate incidents this week. The Mogadishu police chief was killed in a gunfight during a government offensive against Islamist forces in the capital. And the national security minister was assassinated Thursday in a suicide car bomb attack in a town north of Mogadishu called Beletwein. Both officials were close allies of interim President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who, as a moderate Islamist, is the number one enemy of a collection of extremists who want to control all of Somalia.

In recent weeks, the Somali interim government has attacked insurgent strongholds in and around Mogadishu. And the national security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, was believed to be whipping up support for an offensive in central Somalia when he was killed in Beletwein.

Al-Shabaab, a group that the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida, now controls most of that area, and they have claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack. The U.S., the European Union and a regional body of African countries are supplying Somalia's government with weapons, ammunition and money. But the insurgents are reportedly receiving material support from Eretria, as well as from groups who benefit from ongoing chaos in Somalia.

That nation has been without a central government for a generation, and the U.S. says that there are training and transit facilities for extremist groups in Somalia that may or may not have ties to al-Qaida.

But truth is the fighting in Somalia has taken so many turns that it's hard to tell who's winning and who's losing. Extremist groups still control most of the country's real estate, but the government still has most of the capital. And with the help of African Union peacekeepers, the government controls Mogadishu's air and sea ports.

Somalia's civilians, however, are clearly on the losing end. The United Nations is reporting that more than 100,000 people have fled Mogadishu in past weeks, and the U.N. World Food Program is investigating claims that locals are siphoning aid shipments and selling food to the very people who should be eating for free.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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