Al Shabaab seizes small port in Puntland region

A member of Somalia's hardline al Shabaab rebel group walks with a machine gun after attending Eid al-Adha prayers inside a football stadium north of the capital Mogadishu November 16, 2010. Photo/REUTERS
A member of Somalia's hardline al Shabaab rebel group walks with a machine gun after attending Eid al-Adha prayers inside a football stadium north of the capital Mogadishu November 16, 2010. Photo/REUTERS

Somali

al

Shabaab

fighters have seized a small port in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, the latest sign of a resurgence in activity by the militants in the Horn of Africa nation.

A series of offensives last year by the African Union force Amisom and the Somali National

Army had driven

al

Shabaab

out of major strongholds in the southern region of Somalia.

At the time, officials said some

al

Shabaab

fighters had moved north to the Puntland region, beyond Amisom's area of operation. In recent weeks,

al

Shabaab

has

also retaken smaller towns and launched deadly attacks in the southern region.

"Al

Shabaab

fighters with several

boats captured Garad town," Hassan Mohamed, governor for Mudug region of Puntland told Reuters, adding that the attack took place on Monday. "We do not want to say publicly how we will react."

The head of the local

authority in the port town of Garad, Abdinur Abdullahi, told Reuters by telephone that

al

Shabaab

with foreign fighters had met local

elders, saying they would "capture many places and fight non-Muslims."

"Most of the residents have fled," he said, adding

al

Shabaab

had been building up forces in the Galgala Hills, echoing comments previously made by officials in Puntland.

There was not immediate comment from

al

Shabaab.

Garad is a former haven for pirates, who had used the natural

port to mount raids on commercial

ships passing

along nearby shipping lanes leading to and from the Red Sea.

An international

naval

effort has largely driven the Somali pirates away. There have been only a few reports of hijackings in the past two or three years, mostly involving fishing boats not the major tankers or commercial

vessels targeted before.

"Without any gunfire, we were surprised to see

al

Shabaab

fighters here," said resident Mohamed Abdullahi by phone, before phone lines were shut off.

Al

Shabaab

also controls Haradhere, another port town in Puntland. Residents said that a curfew was imposed on that town on Sunday night that was followed by unusually active movement in the port, fuelling talk that

al

Shabaab

was importing weapons and possibly fighters from abroad.

The Puntland coast lies near Yemen, where conflict is raging and

al

Qaeda is active.

Al

Shabaabis

aligned to

al

Qaeda.