Shabaab seize central Somali town
Mogadishu - Al-Qaeda-allied Islamist gunmen seized the key town of Dhusamareb in central Somalia Tuesday, as Shabaab commanders called on fighters to intensify attacks against government and regional forces.
Witnesses said Shabaab fighters on pickup trucks mounted with machine guns entered the town at dawn, driving out the pro-government militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, an Ethiopian-backed force who follow Somalia's traditional Sufi branch of Islam.
"The mujahideen fighters stormed the district after attacking it from two directions early this morning, there was little fighting as the apostate militia fled the city," Shabaab commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim said by telephone.
"With God's help, we will be advancing onto other districts in the region," he added.
Dhusamareb is a strategic town in the central Galgadud region controlling a key road, and its capture marks a notable fight back by the hardline Shabaab, who have pulled out of several key areas in recent months.
Rival armed groups have repeatedly fought over Dhusamareb, controlling it briefly until fresh attacks root them out.
"Al-Shebab fighters riding on vehicles mounted with guns entered the town after fighting with the Sufis, the city has now fallen and they are setting up their base in the police station," said Abdirahman Moalim, an elder in the city.
"Al-Shabaab is in full control, the other fighters [Ahlu Sunna] have left," said Ahmed Mohamud, another resident.
Second major loss
The town's capture comes as Shabaab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane called on Islamist fighters to renew attacks against the 10 000-strong African Union force, which props up the weak Western-backed government in the anarchic capital Mogadishu.
"They [AU forces] will continue to face hard hitting guerrilla attacks that will destroy them, just as armies that were more powerful than them were destroyed," Godane said in a broadcast on the pro-Shabaab Radio Al-Andalus.
Godane, who is also known as Abu Zubayr, also called for attacks in the northern autonomous Puntland region, which is allied to the Western-backed government.
"Mujahideen fighters in areas controlled by the apostate Puntland government must remain unified, you must strengthen your battle fronts until you ensure the Islamic flag flies over the whole region," he added.
The Shabaab face increasing pressure from pro-government forces and regional armies, and last month lost control of their strategic base of Baidoa to Ethiopian troops, the second major loss in six months after abandoning fixed bases in capital.
Kenya sent its troops into southern Somalia to fight them in October, blaming the Shabaab for the abductions of several foreigners. Its troops have now been incorporated into the AU force.
Ethiopian forces entered Somalia a month later in the west, as international diplomatic, military and relief efforts focus on ending the conflict in the south.
However, experts warn the Shabaab are far from defeated and remain a major threat, especially now they have in many areas switched to guerrilla tactics.
The Shabaab and other militia groups have tried to exploit the power vacuum in Somalia, which has had no effective central authority since plunging into war 21 years ago when president Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled.