Al Shabaab took control of a populous town in central Somalia on Sunday after African Union forces left the area — the third town the hardliner insurgents have seized since Friday, militants and local officials said.
Gulf Today - NAIROBI: Al Shabaab took control of a populous town in central Somalia on Sunday after African Union forces left the area — the third town the hardliner insurgents have seized since Friday, militants and local officials said.
The group, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed government has remained a potent threat in the Horn of Africa country after it was forced from the capital Mogadishu in 2011.
The African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, withdraw from Buqda on Saturday night, less than a month after taking control of the town, an economic centre of the Hiran region, from al Shabaab.
“We have taken Buqda town peacefully today. The town is now under our control,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Shabaab’s military spokesman, said.
Residents said they had been treated brutally by both sides, but some said they welcomed the return of Shabaab.
“The problem is that the government cannot keep control of the town and it does not want Shabaab to rule it,” said local elder Nur Ibrahim.
“Government troops rape, rob and kill us.” Shabaab also punishes anyone who sells items to the government.
Over the last two days, Shabaab has taken two small towns in the lower Shabelle region of Somalia, both on routes to sea ports: El Saliindi, 65 km south of Mogadishu en route to Marka port, and Kuntuwarey, on the road between the capital and Barawe port.
Both captured towns were on routes towards Indian Ocean ports south of the capital Mogadishu and came after Shabaab fighters attacked an AU base in the same area on Sept.1.
Last year, African Union peacekeepers drove Shabaab back in the south and seized the port of Barawe in October, a coastal town used by the hardliner militants to bring in arms and fighters from abroad for years.
Shabaab lost control of the main southern port of Kismayu and the port of Marka in 2012, so the loss of Barawe was a setback, leaving the group with no access to the sea in the south of Somalia.
Ali Nur, the acting governor of Lower Shabelle, confirmed the towns had been captured.
“It is sad to say al Shabaab has taken El Saliindi. AU forces withdrew and al Shabaab now controls it,” said Nur, adding that Kuntuwarey was seized on Friday. The AU could not immediately be reached for comment.