Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels said today they would fight rival Hizbul Islam militants for control of the southern port of Kismayu, and residents said the insurgents had started digging trenches.
Kismayu port is a lucrative source of taxes and other income for the Islamist fighters, who are also battling the fragile UN-backed government in the failed Horn of Africa state, Reuters reports.
Western security analysts say Somalia has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, and Washington accuses al Shabaab of being al Qaeda’s proxy in the country.
Relations between al Shabaab and one-time allies Hizbul Islam degenerated last week after al Shabaab named its own local council to run Kismayu, excluding Hizbul members. Until then, the two groups had controlled the port in an uneasy coalition.
Last Thursday, a Hizbul leader said they would not recognise the new administration, and both sides rushed in reinforcements.
“We have decided to fight the group that invaded our town. It is jihad,” Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, the al Shabaab spokesperson, told reporters in Kismayu.
“This group has brought back all the evil acts we banned: killing, looting, drugs, and unveiled women. Instead of fighting the infidels … they came to destroy our Islamic authority.”
The international community wants to bolster President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government, which controls only parts of the nation’s central region and a few districts of Mogadishu.
Violence in Somalia has killed more than 18 000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven 1.5 million from their homes.
“Residents should stop hesitating,” Yaqub said.
“They should follow us and join the jihad. Otherwise, let them join Hizbul Islam and we will fight them all.
Pic: Al- Shabaab rebels