Militant factions clash in Somalia

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Witnesses in Somalia have said at least 20 people have been killed and 50 wounded as two Islamist militant groups battle for control of the port city of Kismayo, located about 300 kilometres from Somalia's capital of Mogadishu.

Kismayo, Somalia (2007)
Image: Abdirisak.

Hundreds of families fled the southern city on Wednesday, anticipating a clash between the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab and the militant group Hizbul Islam.

The two sides began exchanging heavy gunfire early Thursday. Residents in Kismayo told Voice of America that al-Shabab took control over the entire city.

The fighting is very intense

—Abdi Baruud

"The fighting is very intense, al-Shebab launched an offensive on Hizbul Islam positions at Kismayo," resident Abdi Baruud said, as quoted by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The Islamist groups were previously allied in an effort to overthrow Somalia's weak transitional government. But tensions arose recently over which group should administer the port city, which is an important source of revenue for the militants.

The two groups jointly captured Kismayo in August 2008 and had been running it together until last week, when al-Shabab named its own local governing council. An al-Shabab spokesman, Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, told reporters Wednesday that al-Shabab has declared a "holy war" on Hizbul Islam. He also accused the rival group of promoting "un-Islamic" practices.

Al-Shabab is known for enforcing a strict interpretation of Islamic law in the areas it controls. On Monday, the group publicly executed two men it accused of spying for foreign governments, and flogged another person charged with making counterfeit US dollars.

Violence in Somali has resulted in the deaths of nineteen thousand Somalis since the start of 2007, and has displaced an estimated 1.5 million more.