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Islamists Threaten To Shut Down Mogadishu Airport
MOGADISHU , Sept 14, 2008 – Somali Islamists have threatened to stop planes using Mogadishu 's main airport as part of an escalating insurgency rocking the Horn of Africa nation.
The hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab, which is fighting the Somali government and its Ethiopian military backers, said it would stop planes from landing after midnight on Tuesday.
"We banned all planes from Mogadishu after confirming that American spies, the African Union, Ethiopians and the infidel government troops use the airport," said a statement in Somali on www.kataaib.net, one of several sites used by the militants.
The sea-front airport in south Mogadishu is used for government and commercial flights. African Union (AU) peacekeepers and some visiting U.N. missions also fly there.
Aid groups tend to use other landing strips.
"We warn the Somali businessmen: Ethiopia gets revenue from Mogadishu airport. (AU mission) Amisom and Ethiopians also transport their injured and dead soldiers from this airport," said the statement that appeared at the weekend.
The African Union has 2,200 peacekeepers in Somalia , mainly based at the airport. They have done little to stem violence and the pan-African body wants to hand over to the United Nations.
The airport has suffered a string of attacks since Islamists launched an Iraq-style insurgency in 2007. Several times, shells have hit about the time President Abdillahi Yusuf has taken off.
UGANDAN SOLDIER KILLED
There was no immediate response to Al Shabaab from the government. But an AU spokesman said such threats were not new.
"The airport is not for Amisom but for the Somali people," added AU spokesman Barigye Ba-Hoku. "It would hinder first of all the Somalis who need medicine, who need to leave when sick. So this threat means they don't care for the Somali people."
A local airline official, who asked not to be named, said he had received a warning from Al Shabaab.
The threat reflects the growing confidence of one of the main players in the Somali war. The group recently led an Islamist takeover of the southern port of Kismayu , giving it a strategic sea access and proximity to the Kenyan border.
Al Shabaab appears to have stepped up activities, and widened its sphere of targets, since being put on Washington 's terrorist list earlier this year.
In the latest attack, suspected Islamists laid a roadside bomb and fired on a peacekeepers' convoy inspecting for mines in Mogadishu on Sunday, AU staff said. One Ugandan soldier died and two others were wounded in the melee.
There was also fighting between Islamists and AU troops at the Kilometer 4 area of Mogadishu on Sunday, locals said.
"Two of my kids are missing and what I hear is only the constant crash of mortars," resident Seinab Farah said.
Somalia 's civil war has killed more than 8,000 civilians since last year -- and an unknown number of combatants.
One million people are living as internal refugees. (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne)