Assailants fired mortar shells at the Mogadishu airport as a plane carrying an American congressman took off, a police officer said. The plane departed safely, but 19 Somalis were reported wounded in surrounding residential areas.
US Rep. Don Payne, chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, said he didn't learn of the shelling until his plane landed in Nairobi, Kenya, after the flight from Mogadishu, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey, told CNN that he traveled to Somalia alone on a commercial flight. He confirmed the State Department's report that he had been warned of the security problems in Somalia, an unstable country with a history of violence, but said he felt the visit was necessary.
"I believe that a stable Somalia is really a key to a stable Africa," he said.
Nearly every building in Mogadishu is crumbling or pockmarked with bullet holes. Foreigners rarely travel there, and when they do they travel under armed guard and in convoys.