Hundreds of al-Shabaab fighters stormed a strategic district in a province northwest of the capital after the Somali government forces withdrew, residents confirmed.
Wanlaweyn, a small town in the southeastern Lower Shebelle region and some 50-miles from Mogadishu, was briefly seized by al-Shabaab militants on Saturday night.
One local resident who requested not to be named told Horseed Media that the al-Shabaab officials spoke to the residents and warned them to not support the government and AMISOM forces before leaving the town for unknown destination.
[quote]‘’The al-Shabaab officials went to several mosques and spoke to the people who were attending taraweeh prayers at that time, telling them to support them rather than the government… later on they left and we don’t know where they have gone,’’ he said.[/quote]
Somali army commanders have not commented on the reasons behind their withdrawal from Wanlaweyn district.
In the past few weeks, the al-Qaeda-linked militant group has been making substantial advances in the lower Shebelle region.
Local officials and residents have confirmed to Horseed Media that the al-Shabaab militants are now in control of at least three districts in the region – Awdheegle, Tora-toro and Mubarak which are all less than 150-KM southwest of Mogadishu.
Last week, the African Union peacekeepers and Somali military withdrew from two strategic towns, though the the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia and Head of AMISOM Ambassador Maman Sidikou strongly denied.
The al-Qaeda-linked extremists remain dangerous, unpredictable and bold, known for audacious and chilling attacks. Their fighters routinely target the Somali government in Mogadishu. The group has also sought to terrorize neighboring Kenya.
The latest successes of al-Shabaab comes as the second phase of the Operation Indian Ocean – a campaign to further neutralize Al-Shabaab forces and capture remaining ports controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked militant group has been postponed due to the lack of sufficient resources and funding from the EU powers.