Islamists seize southern Somali town, 12 killed..

Halkaan ka akhri

* Al Shaabab chase Hizbul Islam out of Afmadow town

* Residents flee town, others loot property

By Ibrahim Mohamed and Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Nov 22, 2009 – Somalia’s Al-Shabaab Islamists said on Sunday they had seized control of a southern town from the rival Hizbul Islam insurgents after clashes that killed at least 12 fighters.

Al-Shabaab controls much of southern Somalia and parts of the capital Mogadishu. The group is fighting government troops and African Union peacekeepers to impose its own version of sharia, or Muslim law, throughout Somalia.

Witnesses said hundreds of the group’s fighters marched into Afmadow town in the lower Jubba region on Sunday after heavy fighting that started the previous day.

“We are now in the town. We have killed more than 12 of those that fought us and captured others,” al Shabaab commander Mohamed Ali Shuqul told Reuters by telephone from Afmadow, which is close to the border with Kenya.

Residents said they saw dead bodies on the streets as they fled the tense town.

The two rebel groups were former allies but broke ranks over who should control the lucrative southern port of Kismayu.

“Al Shabaab’s strategy is to stop anyone who can have an influence on the people in the areas it controls. This fighting is mainly about who should control resources and Kismayu port,” said Ahmed Ali Noor, a Mogadishu-based political analyst.

ON THE RAMPAGE

Some of Afmadow’s inhabitants took the opportunity to go on the rampage, storming buildings belonging to two aid agencies.

“Many people forced entry into the buildings and looted some equipment belonging to Horn Relief and another NGO,” Afmadow resident Abdi Nor Afrah told Reuters.

A Hizbul Islam commander, Mohamed Husein, told Reuters that discord in his group allowed its rival to take over Afmadow.

“After we disagreed and left the town, al Shabaab got the chance to capture Afmadow,” he said.

Around 19,000 Somalis have been killed in fighting since the start of 2007 and while some residents credit the insurgents with restoring a semblance of order in some areas, al Shabaab’s strict rules have alienated many Somalis who are traditionally moderate Muslims.

Violence onshore has extended to lawlessness at sea where pirate gangs have received millions of dollars in ransoms for ships that they hijacked. They are holding some 13 ships and over 200 crew.

Source: Reuters

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