Fighters loyal to the militia, Hizbul Islam, controlled large swaths of territory in southern and central Somalia, including in Mogadishu, but were steadily losing ground to the Shabab. Both groups were united in the fight against the weak transitional government and the forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia but had a different political agenda and leadership.
“The Hizbul Islam forces left our neighborhood around 4 to 5 p.m. today,” said Mohamed Awale, a resident in the Wardhigley neighborhood, an area previously controlled by Hizbul Islam. “I don’t know where they have gone. I think, they might either join the Shabab or leave with their guns.”
A senior commander of Hizbul Islam in southwestern Somalia near the border with Ethiopia announced Sunday that “his fighters in the town of Luuq have united with the Shabab.”
“The Hizbul Islam fighters here are officially united with our brothers of the Shabab in the cause of God,” said the senior commander, Sheik Farhan Abdi Ciilmooge.
Hizbul Islam and the Shabab are two of the most powerful insurgent groups in Somalia and were once closely allied.
The Shabab, the most fearsome insurgent group in Somalia and an affiliate of Al Qaeda, have been systematically attracting fighters from Hizbul Islam and took over several key towns without a fight.
Two weeks ago, the Shabab attacked Hizbul Islam forces in Buur Hakaba, about 110 miles south of the capital. The Shabab had demanded the rival group stop collecting a “tax” from public transport vehicles going to Baidoa, a main Shabab stronghold. After days of intense gun battles, during which dozens of fighters from each side were killed, the Shabab took over the town.nyt