Somalia’s Islamist militant group al Shabaab captured a small but strategic town south of Bosaso in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, a military officer, al Shabaab and residents said.
Residents of Af Urur told Reuters the town is now controlled by al Shabaab.
“When we woke up this morning, we saw many al Shabaab fighters controlling the town. Puntland military forces left yesterday,” Ahmed Nur told Reuters from Af Urur.
Al Shabaab wants to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government, expel the African Union-mandated peace keeping force AMISOM and establish a government based on its strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
Af Urur’s position is important because the main road linking Garowe, Bosaso and Mogadishu passes nearby.
Puntland forces and al Shabaab fought in the town, which has ditch defences, several times in the past.
Mohamed Abdi, a Puntland military officer, told Reuters al Shabaab took Af Urur town by Friday morning, adding without elaborating only a few Puntland military forces were in town on Thursday.
“We were supposed to be replaced by other forces,” Abdi said. “We will recapture the town from al Shabaab.”
Al Shabaab confirmed they had control of the town.
“Puntland forces ran away as we advanced because they know we taught them tough lessons before,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters. “We now peacefully control Af Urur town.”
Somalia has been gripped by violence and lawlessness since the toppling of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in the early 1990s.