Somalia’s militant Islamist group al Shabaab seized a town in the south of the country on Friday after it was abandoned by the military and African Union-mandated (AMISOM) peacekeepers, residents said.
Leego, north-west of Mogadishu, is in Somalia’s lower Shabelle region where al Shabaab last week killed at least 12 peacekeepers in one of the deadliest attacks on AMISOM.
Farah Ahmed, a resident of Leego, told Reuters AMISOM and Somali military forces pulled out of the town early on Friday.
“That same minute al Shabaab entered to control the town. The town is now calm and al Shabaab fighters are in every part of the town.”
It was not immediately clear why the military and AMISOM had withdrawn.
“Leego is now under our control,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.
Al Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and to rule the Horn of Africa country according to its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
The group was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been forced from most of its other strongholds across the country.
But it remains a formidable threat, with fighters frequently carrying out bombings against both civilian and military targets in Mogadishu and other towns in Somalia.
The militants also conduct regular attacks across the border into neighbouring Kenya, which they want to pressure into withdrawing its contingent from AMISOM.