A-Shabaab has stepped up its recruitment campaign in small villages around El Bur in an attempt to boost its ranks to fight the encroaching allied forces and retake the territory it lost in March.The militant group has started a recruitment campaign in the villages of El Garas, Belahadle, Hindhere and Habalo Badan, all located around El Bur, calling on members of the public to take part in the fight against African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali troops, said Abdirizaq Jama, a 57-year-old elder from Hindere.
"On March 20th, al-Shabaab forced village residents to attend lectures on jihad and how to fight against AMISOM and Somali government troops," he told Sabahi. "They told us that anyone who dies in the battle al-Shabaab is engaged in will be an honourable and good person near God and will go to paradise."
Jama said village residents attended the lectures even though many did not believe in what al-Shabaab was saying. "There is fear and some of the people from the village fled to areas under the control of the government."
Shamso Yusuf, a 39-year-old mother of six from El Garas village, told Sabahi she fled with her children to El Bur on March 18th in order to protect them from being recruited by al-Shabaab.
"I have been in El Bur for two weeks. I fled with my children because I was afraid they would be misled by the cursed al-Shabaab who keep persecuting citizens," she said. "Anyone who rejects them and does not join them is labelled an infidel now."
"All the livestock I owned I left there in the village," Yusuf said, describing how she was forced to leave the animals behind to avoid attracting unwanted attention. "Now, I do not know where the 25 goats I owned are located."
"I have now become a [financial] burden for my children's uncle who lives in El Bur as their father died a long time ago," she said.
Al-Shabaab is holding residents as hostages and forcing them to attend weekly lectures on jihad, said "Faisal Siyad", a 46-year-old elder from Habala Badan village who requested a pseudonym for security reasons.
He said senior al-Shabaab officials, led by spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage, came to the village at the end of March and held sermons about jihad in order to drum up support from village residents.
"They have misled up to eight people, including children and youth, who adopted al-Shabaab ideology in March," Siyad told Sabahi. "When the parents of some of them tried to counsel them in private, they accused their parents of being infidels," he said. "Can we say that al-Shabaab believes in any religion [when they allow] a person to tell his parents 'You are infidels if you are against al-Shabaab's battle'?"
Siyad said that the eight people who were recruited last month have now been turned into recruiters themselves and are going around the village to attract more youth.
Need for more government presence
Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa executive committee deputy chairman Sheikh Ahmed Abdullahi Ilkaase said the lack of a strong presence of government forces is the reason al-Shabaab has been able to conduct this type of recruitment freely and without restraint in some areas of Galgadud.
"It is a fact that the group has been recruiting new fighters in the villages that come under El Bur in order to carry out [an offensive] against the towns they were forced to flee from," he told Sabahi. "But it seems as though there is no concrete plan to fight against al-Shabaab members in Galgadud region, and the government only wants the media to announce that the town of El Bur is in its hands."
"The only way al-Shabaab can be defeated is by mounting an attack on them everywhere they are located in the region so that their capability is destroyed,"