"Everybody is lying on the floor. We cannot keep our heads up because of gunfire. They are asking us to open the gates and nobody is willing to do that. Most of the windows are shattered."

Officials of the interim government would not immediately comment on the incident.
 
Jafar Kukay, Shabelle's acting manager, told Reuters news agency by telephone from his office: "Some of the employees and I hit the deck ... others ran upstairs. I do not know whether they are hurt or not."

"We do not know why they are targeting us."

He said most of the staff had managed to flee the compound during a lull after two hours of shooting.

Rocky relations

The interim government's relations with independent media organisations have been rocky since its forces and the Ethiopian army forced the Islamic Courts Union out of much of central and southern Somalia over the New Year.

Since then there have been near daily roadside bombings, assassinations and suicide blasts blamed on remnants of the group and clans opposed to the government.

"Many Mogadishu-based journalists have been forced to flee the country due to the ongoing intimidation of journalists"

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists
Senior government officials have accused local broadcasters of bias in their reporting of the violence and the political situation, of stoking tensions, and backing armed groups that oppose the government.

Shabelle and two other independent media outlets, HornAfrik and IQK Koranic Radio, were briefly banned and have been taken off the air twice, in January and in June, prompting criticism from press freedom watchdogs.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Tuesday accused the interim administration of persecuting reporters.
   
"Many Mogadishu-based journalists have been forced to flee the country due to the ongoing intimidation of journalists," Joel Simon, the CPJ's executive director, said in a statement.
   
"We call on the government to stop this harassment and to move its forces away from the main gates of the Shabelle media network offices."

Somalia is also the second deadliest country in the world for journalists, after Iraq, according to the CPJ.

At least seven journalists have been killed in Somalia this year.