Reports have emerged of how al Shabaab militants in Somalia are extorting huge sums from starving communities.
The militants are also forcibly recruiting hundreds of children as soldiers and suicide bombers.
This comes as the terror group endures financial pressures, a decrease in numbers and an apparent crisis of morale.
Intelligence documents, transcripts of interrogations from recent defectors, and interviews conducted on returnees by security agents confirm the situation.
"Worse is that they lurk in the villages waiting for us to receive any food or medical aid from the AMISOM troops or humanitarian organisations and then they forcibly come for them," Omar from Gedo region said in an interview.
"They even confiscate painkillers from mothers who have just delivered."
After decades of causing havoc in the south and central Somalia as well as in Mogadishu, al Shabaab was forced to retreat to rural areas following an intervention by AMISOM troops.
With the current drought in Somalia and the continuing bombardment from the Somalia National Army, AMISOM, and its international partners, it now appears that the militants are not only suffering operational defeat but are also suffering a crisis of morale and financial pressure.
This has prompted the drive to squeeze revenue out of poor rural communities.
A recent defector from central Somalia told government interrogators that the group forces "Muslims to pay for pretty much everything except entering the mosque."
In another interview, a former mid-ranking commander, who defected four months ago, described how he oversaw the taxation of every aspect of people lives.
For instance, he says wells were taxed at Sh200,000 per month and a fee of Sh35,000 levied at water holes for every camel drinking there.
In Bai province, Southern Somalia residents are forced to pay an annual collective tax of a thousand camels, each worth Sh50,000, and several thousand goats.
In addition, trucks using roads in al Shabaab controlled territory pay Sh180,000 for each trip.
Five per cent of all land sales is taken as tax, and arbitrary levies of up to Sh1,0000,000 imposed on communities for "educational purposes".
However, in a contradicting move, the group has warned residents in some towns that they would be punished if they have any contact with humanitarian agencies or the AMISOM troops for fear of being spied on.
Al Shabaab actualised this threat on January 20 when they destroyed the main communication mast supporting Elwak town.
This was after the residents engaged KDF soldiers who were inquiring about residents' health needs in preparation for a medical camp.
KDF, however, went ahead and carried out the medical camp the following week treating over 150 residents.
In addition to all the setbacks al Shabaab is facing, there is also evidence that the militants are suffering from manpower shortages, thus the increased recruitment drive for child soldiers.
Residents confirm that since July last year, the militant group has been aggressively and forcibly taking boys from their homesteads to have them join the group.
The middle commander defector further added that: "Al-Shabaab used to demand money or children from clans but now they demand both."
Another defector said al Shabaab is now insisting that all male children must attend its boarding schools from as early as six-years-old.
In school, the children train as fighters and later join fighting units in their mid-teens.
The defectors reveal brainwashing and indoctrination of the boys from their early ages is done within the schools.
Police say in January 2018, Somali troops stormed one such school run by al Shabaab and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits then 'brainwashed' to be suicide bombers.
The children are now undergoing intensive psychological treatment to try and mitigate the effects of years of indoctrination.
It is said the militia has further put to death dozens of Somalis who they prosecute in their 'kangaroo courts', conducted forced marriages, and used civilian populations as human shields and most recently the killing of foreign fighters within their rank and file on suspicion of spying for AMISOM and international forces.
Last week in Gedo region, four men and a 16-year-old boy were shot dead by a firing squad after being accused of spying for the Somali authorities.
The militants, according to police, also imposes tight restrictions on media.
Most people only listen to al Shabaab radio stations or get news from al Shabaab lectures which go on for hours and which all must attend.
Some people risk harsh punishments to listen in secret to Voice of America and the BBC.
According to Beledweyne area chief, the terrorists also manipulate rivalries between clans by instigating allegations against each other.
The draconian punishment, seizures, taxes, and abductions run counter to the strategic guidance issued by al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
He has called for affiliates of the veteran group to build consensus and support among local communities.
"From the al Shabaab perspective, they are still trying to portray themselves as defenders of the Somali identity and Islam. However, they continue to bring grievous harm and pain to the people of Somalia," the chief said.
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