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The market was created in late 1972 during the reign of Mohamed Siad Barre. Proprietors sold and still sell daily essentials (including staples such as maize, sorghum, beans, peanuts, sesame, wheat and rice, petrol and medicine), but it also largely expanded during the civil war and has become notoriously known as a market of small arms and all kinds of weapons, including rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), mortars (80mm and 120mm), 23mm and 30mm antiaircraft guns, and ammunition of all types. It was known as the largest market of weapons in the continent.
It is also famous for other illicit activities, such as forged Somali passports processed within minutes, including Ethiopian and Kenyan passports, and other forged documents, including but not limited to birth certificates and university diplomas. This illicit sub-market is famously known as Cabdalle Shideeye, named after one of its first proprietors.
Gunfire is commonly heard, as shoppers fire weapons into the air to test them before purchase, hence giving the sub-gun market the nickname cirtoogte (sky shooter). Anti-aircraft guns and mortars are tested at a further distance from the market. In 2001, a rough estimate by aid agencies placed the number of assault rifles in Mogadishu at somewhere near 1 million, for a city population of 1.5 million.
In October 1993, the market was the site of the Battle of Mogadishu or The Battle of the Black Sea. One of the two Black Hawk helicopters were downed in the area, which led to a fierce firefight that lasted for the entire night.
In 1997, a dispute arose over the control of the collection of taxes in the market. As a result of the confrontation, an RPG was fired into a fuel tank (which are above ground in the market, not stored underground). Several civilians were injured.
On January 26, 2000, the market was the site of the shooting of Ahmed Kafi Awale, a radio commentator for Hussein Mohamed Aidid's Radio of the Somali People. Awale was there covering the market. Three others were killed and seven badly injured.
On January 5, 2001, a fire broke out in the market, caused by two fighting militias. The vegetable section of the market was destroyed, as was part of the milk section. Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militia forces broke up the fighting.
In February 2001, an influx of counterfeit currency led to the shutting of the market for a time. The Somali shilling collapsed. Traders only accepted U.S. dollars for a time. Not only the cost of arms were affected—the cost of food and essentials doubled during the crisis.
On April 10, 2004, another fire broke out in the market. According to a report to the UN Security Council:
On the night of 10 April , a serious fire in the main Bakaara market in Mogadishu resulted in at least eight people killed and more than 30 wounded. Armed looters shot indiscriminately into the crowd. The incident caused widespread insecurity in the areas surrounding the market.
On October 2, 2007, another raging fire started in the market, spreading rapidly. The fire reportedly was caused by a fired shell during a brief fight between the terrorist forces against Ethiopian peacekeepers and their allied transitional government forces nearby.
On May 1, 2010, two bombs detonated at a mosque near the market, killing 39 people and wounding 70.
On May 14, 2011 heavy shelling hit the market resulting in at least 14 civilian casualties. Most of the civilians killed were women doing their shopping, one child was also among those killed.
The security checkpoint for the market was controlled for a long while by Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, a Mogadishu warlord who was appointed Minister of National Security by the Transitional Federal Government. The checkpoints for the market were to be taken down in June 2005 as part of the Green Leaf for Democracy (GLED) initiative of a "Global Week against Small Arms."
A fire broke out December 6, 2006, beginning at a charcoal storage facility and then spreading to nearby shops.
On December 11, the Islamists announced they planned to impose a tax on the market to raise funds for their movement. Before they could effect their plans, the ICU left the capital. On December 28, 2006, the market closed during the uncertainty of the Fall of Mogadishu.
Arms tradings recently re-opened with the ousting of the ICU by the Transitional Federal Government. However, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has ordered a disarmament of the populace, calling the future of the Bakaara Market into question.
A particular worry are the reports that children, armed with AK-47's and whips, are being used by the militant group al-Shabab as a method of enforcing their interpretation of Sharia law on the populace.