[dehai-news] (Reuters): Somalia's Al Shabaab seize central town, 13 dead

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sat Dec 06 2008 - 06:25:24 EST

Somalia's Al Shabaab seize central town, 13 dead

Sat 6 Dec 2008, 9:22 GMT

MOGADISHU, Dec 6 (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 Mogadishu,
adds to the growing hold al Shabaab has gained across south and central
Somalia in a two-year insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian
military allies.

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 Aden, told
Reuters by telephone from the area. "Six died yesterday and four were lying
in the paths of the deserted town this morning. It is now under control of
al Shabaab."

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.

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 Mogadishu, and been gradually taking towns across
south-central Somalia.

They hold one town within just a few miles of Mogadishu.

With Ethiopia saying it will withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of
the year, and the Western-backed interim government remaining weak and
split, some believe al Shabaab may be poised to take over Mogadishu soon.

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,
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Charles Dick)

C Reuters 2008. All Rights Reserved.


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