Magazine article The Spectator

Ambushed in Somalia

Magazine article The Spectator

Ambushed in Somalia

Article excerpt

As we entered the old city, the heat shimmered off coral towers half reduced to rubble by cycles of war. We had just exited Mogadishu's presidential palace after a morning's filming. Gemaal was at the wheel and Duguf rode shotgun.

Cameraman Jim and I were in the back chatting.

Then came the bang. Except I recall no 'bang', only a shock wave. It sucked the air out of my lungs so hard that I tasted blood in my throat. Through our car's rear window I saw black smoke and debris enveloping our escort vehicle 30 metres behind.

'There's wounded, ' said Jim. Gunfire erupted. Everybody abandoned the car. As Jim ran towards the blast site whatever he said was lost except for '. . . secondary attack!' Total confusion. In the back of the escort car I saw one man pulling at a limp body.

Nearby, a woman sat in the sandy road. Her right arm was half blown away but she still clutched a can of cooking oil in her left. Two men who might have been talking in the road lay near a crater in the roadside rubbish. One had his guts hanging out. His eyes were open. The other man was panting as blood poured from his chest.

Due to the heat I hadn't worn a flak jacket. Now I returned to our car and put it on.

As the smoke cleared, there was more gunfire. I thought, 'Now where?' Bystanders urged me to join them down a side street.

I wondered if they might be intending to abduct me. But they just looked scared. In Somalia one rarely sees that, ever, but things are very bad in Mogadishu these days. A boy clutched his foot and cried. I asked, 'Are you OK?' He kept on crying.

Walking back to join Jim at the blast area, I met a youth on a bicycle. 'We want life, not this, ' he said, pointing at the mayhem around him. 'I don't care about this fighting. My family is finished. Sorry, my English is broken.' When I got to Jim I said, 'It can't have been for us. It was a mistake.' But who would ever know. Here, assassins give a kid a mobile phone plus a number to ring -- another phone that triggers the bomb -- when a target passes. If he hits the right car he gets $50. Standing in a window a block away, he has little idea what he's hitting.

What's worse is that local phones take seconds to connect. You hear them every day, roadside explosions that kill people who have nothing to do with this war. …

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