Mogadishu, Somalia Masked gunmen dragged slain soldiers through the streets of Somalia's capital Wednesday, then set the bodies on fire as jeering crowds threw rocks and kicked the dead after a fierce battle in a neighborhood loyal to Islamic insurgents.
At least 16 people were reported killed and dozens were wounded in the hourslong firefight, which was some of the heaviest fighting in Mogadishu since a radical Muslim militia was driven from the city in December after six months in power.
An Associated Press photographer saw six corpses - all soldiers for the U.N.-backed interim government or their Ethiopian allies - burned and mutilated while masked men shouted "God is great!" Women in head scarves and flowing dresses pounded one charred body with rocks.
A similar scene in Mogadishu grabbed the world's attention in 1993 when militiamen shot down a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter during an attempt to capture a warlord and dragged around dead American soldiers. The Clinton administration pulled out U.S. troops, and U.N. peacekeepers soon followed suit, leaving Somalia to years of anarchy.
One masked man, Abdinasir Hussein, said he dragged a soldier's corpse behind his motorbike. He told the AP he wanted to show that Somalis will defeat the "invaders," referring to the troops from neighboring Ethiopia that helped government forces defeat the Islamic militia.
"I'm happy to drag an Ethiopian soldier on the Mogadishu streets," Hussein said.
Ahmed Mohamed Botaan, a clan elder in the neighborhood where the battle erupted before dawn, said he counted 16 bodies, seven of which were government soldiers. Mogadishu's three hospitals reported at least seven dead and 36 wounded.
The fighting began when Somali and Ethiopian soldiers entered the insurgent stronghold in southern Mogadishu seeking to consolidate the government's control. But hundreds of masked gunmen were waiting, and shooting raged for hours.
An insurgent group known as the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, which is linked to the ousted Council of Islamic Courts, claimed it was the target of the government offensive but said its fighters repulsed the attack.
"They were unable to bear the pain of bullets coming from all four directions," the group said in a statement posted on the Islamic militia's Web site.
A government official, who agreed to discuss the combat situation only if not quoted by name, said the offensive focused on parts of the city controlled by the Habr Gedir clan, which supported more radical elements of the Islamic militia and opposes the interim administration.
The official said there would be more fighting. "The next week will be very hot in Mogadishu," the official said.