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February 3, 2017

IS hostages in Somalia found beheaded

Three of five people abducted by Islamic State-affiliated fighters in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland last weekend have been found beheaded, a government official told Reuters.

The five people were abducted by fighters from the militant Islamist group last weekend in Qandala, a port city on Puntland's Gulf of Aden coast.

Somalia has been mired in lawlessness and violence at the hands of various armed groups since the deposing of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in the early 1990s.

Islamist group al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, a rival of Islamic State (IS), has sowed much of the chaos in the Horn of Africa country in recent years.

'IS beheaded three of the civilians they had abducted days ago,' Jamac Mohamed Khuurshe, commissioner for Qandala district told Reuters on Wednesday.

'We saw the three ... beheaded bodies lying outside Qandala town this morning.'

He said the two remaining civilians were still missing.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of who was responsible for the beheading although IS is widely known to carry out decapitations of enemies.

IS fighters wrested control of Qandala from Putland's military in October last year, cutting off the town's communications and forcing many residents to flee.

Puntland forces retook the town in December.

Islamic State has been seeking recruits in Puntland although experts say the scale of its force is unclear and it remains a small player compared to al-Shabab.

Somalia's parliament is due to elect a new President on February 8, which should help anchor the Western-backed but still fragile and unstable central government.

Al-Shabab lost control of Somali capital Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been pushed from many of its former strongholds.

The group remains a potent menace, however, and has staged frequent bombings in Mogadishu and assaults on bases of both Somalia's national army and African Union-mandated peacekeeping force AMISOM which is helping to defend the central government.