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 Islamist insurgents have seized since Friday, militants and local officials said.
The group, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islamic law, 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,” SheikhAbdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman, said.
Residents said they had been treated brutally by both sides, but some said they welcomed the return of al Shabaab.
“The problem is that the government cannot keep control of the town and it does not want al Shabaab to rule it,” said local elder Nur Ibrahim. “Government troops rape, rob and kill us. Al Shabaab also punishes anyone who sells items to the government.
Over the last two days, al Shabaab has taken two small towns in the lower Shabelle region ofSomalia, both on routes to sea ports: El Saliindi, 65 km (40 miles) south of Mogadishu en route toMarka port, and Kuntuwarey, on the road between the capital and Barawe port.
The al Qaeda-affiliated group, which is seeking to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose its harsh version of Islamic law, regularly attacks the AU-led peacekeeping force and Somali officials.
On Sept. 1, al Shabaab stormed an AU base in Janale, about 90 km (55 miles) south ofMogadishu, killing at least 12 Ugandan soldiers. Al Shabaab said it killed 70 people in the assault, which came roughly a year after its leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a U.S. air strike