MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) “” More than 100 masked Islamic militiamen entered a strategic town Thursday in the latest bold move by a force defeated two years ago at the hands of Somalia’s Western-backed government and its Ethiopian allies.
The Islamists held the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia for six
months before they were pushed out by the Ethiopians in December 2006.
They have since waged a deadly insurgency and carried out numerous attacks in
Mogadishu. They have also staged brazen raids in towns including Bur Haqaba, a hilltop town
about 35 miles from the provincial capital of Baidoa in the south. The group released prisoners from jail and killed a police chief before retreating, witnesses said.
Last month, Islamic fighters briefly took over Dinsor in southern Somalia, killing nine soldiers, police said.
The U.S. has linked the militiamen to al-Qaida, and on Monday, the U.S. launched a missile strike in eastern Somalia targeting a suspect in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
On Thursday, the masked fighters entered Hudur, a southwestern town that lies along the road leading from Ethiopia into Somalia.
“There was not a single gunshot,” said Mustaf Mahad, a well-known businessman
“The fighters took positions at two locations in the town, we do not know if their aim is to take over the town or not,” another resident told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. He and other residents said there have been only a smattering of government troops in the town recently.
A government spokesman said he could not confirm Islamists had moved into the
town and had no comment.