BARWAQO , Somalia, The Somali military on Saturday said it recaptured a town seized by militants who broke away from al-Qaida group al-Shabab to form an Isis cell.
Col. Haybe Ahmed Abdullahi, a regional military commander, said security forces on Friday regained control of the village of Barwaqo, in the Lower Juba region of southern Somalia, near the Kenyan border. The militants had reportedly captured it four days earlier.
“Our forces are in the area now. We removed [IS] militants who defected from al-Shabab fighters,” Xinhua news agency quoted Abdullahi as saying. “They were a small group who has run away.”
Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based Islamist militant group that is affiliated with al-Qaida. The United States branded it a foreign terrorist organization in 2008, two years after the group took over most of the country’s south.
Somali and Ethiopian troops militarily defeated the group in 2007, but it has since then conducted a series of deadly attacks in Somalia and neighboring Kenya, including the 2013 assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi that ended with at least 67 people dead. Masked al-Shabab gunmen also killed nearly 150 people at Garissa University College earlier this year.
However, IS — an Islamist militant group that holds territories in Syria and Iraq — since last year has accepted pledges of allegiance from several terrorist cells across the world, including from groups in Libya, Egypt and Nigeria.
Earlier this month, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Michael Franken, head of U.S. Africa Command, said a small group of al-Shabab militants broke away from the main group in October and pledged allegiance to IS.
Franken said about group, comprising about 20 fighters, was “insignificant” and that its formation had caused in-fighting among militants in Somalia.
Sheikh Hussein Abdi Gedi, a veteran official with al-Shabab, was reportedly ambushed and killed by fellow militants after attempting to persuade some to switch their allegiance to IS in November.
By Fred Lambert