Somalis living in fear of Kenya attacks
Mogadishu - Residents of Somalia towns targeted by Kenyan forces fighting Shabaab rebels are caught between two fears - getting hit in an air raid or risk being accused of spying for Nairobi.
Inhabitants of Baidoa, one of the 10 towns singled out this week by Kenya for attack, say they spend as little time as possible outdoors, fearing that a bombardment would unleash dangerous rock shards from the huge boulders that dot the area.
"People who used to go out farming now spend the shortest possible time outside," said Mohamed Samow, a local resident.
"Everybody is worried now and we hear the sound of aircraft flying over the whole region everyday," he added.
"Baidoa is rocky. This will increase the casualties including civilians if a bomb is dropped," Samow said. "Some people are contemplating whether to flee... there is real worry which has never been seen in this town before."
Kenya deployed troops into the Shabaab-controlled southern Somalia last month to battle the al-Qaeda-inspired rebels it blames for kidnapping foreigners on its soil and conducting cross-border raids.
The Islamist militants, who deny the accusations, warned Kenya Thursday of "cataclysmic consequences" and are watching the civilian population with suspicion.
Some residents say militants have been seizing mobile phones of people they suspect of spying for the Somali government and the Kenyan troops.
"Two men were taken for questioning and their phones confiscated," said Mohamed Abdullahi Isak, a Baidoa resident. "There are many fighters who are infiltrating civilians to see if anyone is indicating targets. Everyone is worried."
"Al-Shabaab fighters are conducting security operations region-wide," Isak added.
The Kenyan military also said the Shabaab this week received three planeloads of weapons in Baidoa, and on Thursday army spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the rebels were using donkeys to transport the arms.
Kenya is seeking to prevent the Shabaab, who control most of southern Somalia, from launching attacks on its territory and launched the offensive in mid-October.
Despite voicing security worries over the years about the extremist militia, Nairobi had held off from an outright battle against the Shabaab, preferring to offer military training and diplomatic support for Somalia's weak government.
Chirchir on Tuesday urged residents in 10 southern Somali towns to avoid rebel camps as the army prepared to attack.