October 3, 2009 – Somalia's al Shabaab rebels took full control of the
southern port of Kismayu on Friday and sought to play down fears that
clashes with their ousted rivals Hizbul Islam might spread to other
A local rights group said at least 28 civilians were killed in fighting
between the groups in the port on Thursday, along with an unknown number
of combatants. One Hizbul Islam commander said he believed scores of
gunmen had died in the battle.
Until the latest fighting, the two Islamist groups had shared control of
the port, a lucrative source of taxes and other income.
Sheikh Hassan Yaqub, the spokesman in Kismayu for al Shabaab, told
Reuters by telephone his side's forces were now in charge. Washington
describes al Shabaab as al Qaeda's proxy in the failed Horn of Africa
"Everything is going well now in Kismayu. The situation is completely
calm, there are no problems," Yaqub said.
"Many mujahideen died in the fighting, but we are providing medical care
to our opponents who were injured."
Hospital workers said more than 120 civilians were wounded.
Hizbul Islam fighters quit Kismayu for surrounding districts, and there
were fears they would retaliate. But some of the hundreds of residents
who had fled returned to their homes on Friday, and some businesses
reopened their doors.
One Hizbul Islam commander told Reuters by telephone that the overall
death toll from Thursday could be much higher.
Gunmen Buried In Alleys
Western donors have long hoped hardliners in al Shabaab could be
isolated by a deal between more moderate Hizbul leaders and the
government that could bring some stability to the country after nearly
two decades of chaos.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has so far failed to lure top Hizbul Islam
figures to his side, but a feud between the two rebel groups could give
his government some breathing space.
"Al Shabaab drove us out after seven hours of serious fighting," the
Hizbul commander, Mohamed Aden, said by phone from the Kismayu
outskirts. "I'm sure more died, because each side was burying tens of
its fighters like rubbish in the alleyways."
Residents said foreign gunmen appeared to be among the dead.
Western security experts say Somalia has become a safe haven for
militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to hide and
plot attacks across the region and beyond.
Fighting in Somalia has killed nearly 19,000 civilians since the start
of 2007 and driven 1.5 million from their homes.
The clashes between Somalia's two main rebel groups raised the prospect
of confrontations between their forces elsewhere including Mogadishu,
where they have fought together against the weak U.N.-backed government
and African Union peacekeepers.
Hizbul had said it would fight al Shabaab "everywhere" in Somalia if
fighting broke out in Kismayu.
But al Shabaab's main spokesman in the capital sought to downplay the
risk and pinned the blame for the Kismayu bloodshed on a senior Hizbul
commander there, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe.
"This conflict is not among the mujahideen," the spokesman, Sheikh Ali
Mohamud Rage, told reporters. "Sheikh Ahmed Madobe is the only one
responsible for the war."
Source: Reuters, Oct 02, 2009