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Weapons raids in Somalia after violent night

Mogadishu exploded in violence last week morning after unknown insurgents attacked a transitional government barracks during the night and soldiers responded by sealing off large swaths of the city, searching house to house for guns.

The weapons raids immediately provoked stiff resistance, and squads of Ethiopian soldiers and troops loyal to the transitional government poured into the streets, where they battled outraged residents and a handful of masked insurgents. From dawn to afternoon, the pop of gunfire and the boom of explosives reverberated across Mogadishu, Somalia's reliably chaotic capital.

But it is difficult to tell how many people here actually support the growing insurgency against Somalia's transitional government and the Ethiopian troops backing it. On Wednesday, a group of masked men stood on the steps of a Mogadishu mosque and proclaimed themselves to be Somalia's new freedom fighters.

They were met by jeers. "Why can't you hit anything, then?" shouted one woman, referring to a botched grenade attack that missed the Ethiopians and demolished a house. "Were you scared? Were your fingers trembling?"

Regardless of the insurgents' popularity, or lack thereof, violence is increasing. And the transitional government, which entered the capital two weeks ago for the first time since it formed in 2004, now faces a critical test: how quickly, if at all, can it pacify a notoriously dangerous city, bristling with military-grade weaponry and split by deep clan divisions?

Clan rivalries have been the curse of Somalia ever since there was a Somalia. They are the cause of its civil wars, its famines and its state of suspended decay. It seems that this new chapter is no different. The insurgents are still a mysterious bunch, but they are widely suspected to be members of the ousted Islamist movement. After being routed, the Islamists vowed to fight on as an underground army.

As each night passes, more government troops are attacked.

On Tuesday, insurgents launched one of their boldest strikes, firing rocket-propelled grenades at an army barracks downtown. Witnesses said at least two soldiers died, and the insurgents got away. But on Wednesday, residents said that Ethiopian soldiers were able to confiscate some guns and arrest several people suspected of being insurgents.

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