The hardline Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab has strengthened its hold on parts of south and central Somalia, after winning a battle for the town of Gurael, north of the capital Mogadishu.
REUTERS - The hardline Islamist insurgent group al Shabaab has taken control of a central Somali trading town after fighting that killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens of others, residents said on Saturday.
The capture of Gurael, 370 km (230 miles) north of the capital
Locals said al Shabaab, which means youth in Arabic, took Gurael after three days of fighting with a government-allied moderate Sunni Islamist group in the area.
The battle began after al Shabaab fighters arrested a local Koranic teacher of that group, they said.
"I have counted 10 dead men myself," one local resident, Ali
Witnesses spoke of chaos in the area, with bullets being fired on vehicles full of fleeing residents. Three women were killed in one lorry, they said.
More than 5,000 Gurael residents had fled to the protection of nearby woods, a local human rights group said.
Medical staff were overwhelmed.
"We received 15 injured people including civilians and fighters. And we hear many families fled with injuries to other towns," said Ismail Ali, a nurse at Guarel hospital.
Al Shabaab leaders could not be reached for comment.
In further violence, fighting between al Shabaab and local militiamen killed seven people near the southern town of
In Baidoa, the provincial seat of the Somali parliament, a man threw a hand grenade at government soldiers in a market place on Saturday. The blast killed three civilians and the attacker, witnesses said.
The soldiers shot dead the man who hurled the grenade, witness Hussein Afrah told Reuters.
Since the start of 2007, al Shabaab and other Islamist rebels have waged an Iraq-style insurgency of mortar attacks, roadside bombings and assassinations in
They hold one town within just a few miles of
It is hampered, however, by splits within the Islamist ranks, where some oppose al Shabaab's militancy and support U.N.-brokered peace talks aimed at a power-sharing government. (Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled; Mohamed Ahmed in
Date created : 2008-12-06