A feud between Somalia's president and prime minister escalated on Wednesday as they clashed over key security appointments, plunging the troubled country deeper into a political crisis.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble have publicly traded accusations of abuse of power, exposing fresh divisions in an administration that is behind on elections and threatened by an Islamist insurgency.
In a move likely to only aggravate the situation, Roble fired the country's security minister and replaced him with a Farmajo critic.
Roble had earlier accused the president of obstructing a closely-watched inquiry into the disappearance of a young intelligence agent whose fate thrust the high-stakes power struggle into the public eye.
"That is a dangerous existential threat to the country's governance system," said Roble, who described a pattern of interference in the investigative remit of Somalia's justice agencies.
Roble angered the president by this week firing the head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) over his handling of the high-profile disappearance case, and putting another man in charge.
Farmajo said the sacking was "illegal and unconstitutional" and overruled his prime minister, naming another appointee to the top job, and appointing the dumped intelligence chief as his national security adviser.
He has yet to respond to Roble's decision announced late Wednesday to replace Hassan Hundubey Jimale with Abdullahi Mohamed Nur at the head of the powerful security ministry, which oversees all security and intelligence agencies in the Horn of Africa nation.
The public spat has raised the political temperature in Mogadishu, where military units close to Farmajo's office were seen stationed outside NISA headquarters.
"The situation is tense, and many in the agency are confused now. Some senior officials seem to have taken sides," one NISA officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, journalists at state-run media outlets reported being instructed not to broadcast messages from Farmajo, whose four-year mandate expired in February before fresh elections were held.
"We have been told by the minister to stop reporting on matters from the president's office related to the political conflict," a staffer at the Ministry of Information told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A Swedish-trained civil engineer and political neophyte, Roble was appointed prime minister by Farmajo in September last year after his predecessor was ousted in a no-confidence vote by parliament.
But the two men have frequently clashed, with the row threatening to throw an already fragile electoral process into deeper peril.
The international community has encouraged both leaders to focus on the elections, which are already months behind schedule.
"We urge Somali leaders to de-escalate the political confrontation surrounding this investigation and, in particular, avoid any actions that could lead to violence," read a statement Tuesday issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.
Farmajo's mandate was extended by parliament in April, setting off deadly gun battles in the streets of Mogadishu.
Roble was appointed to ease the political tensions and deliver elections, and a new timetable to a vote was cobbled together.
But the process fell behind, and Roble has accused Farmajo of trying to reclaim "election and security responsibilities" from him.
Elections in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The next phase is scheduled between October 1 and November 25.
Analysts say the election impasse has distracted from Somalia's larger problems, most notably a violent insurgency waged by Al-Shabaab.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and the capability to stage deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere.
Last week, NISA said the intelligence officer abducted near her home in June was killed by the militants.
But the insurgents promptly -- and unusually -- denied any role in the disappearance of 25-year-old Ikran Tahlil, whose family has accused NISA of murdering her.