For the second time this year, Somali militant group Al-Shabab have taken control of the southern port town of Merca, 100km south of the capital Mogadishu early Monday morning. According to resident witnesses and officials, heavily armed Al-Shabab fighters captured of the town after African Union (AU) peacekeepers and government troops withdrew at dawn.
“The militants took up strategic locations in the town and hoisted their flag” one resident told VOA.
Various government officials acknowledged this development. Ibrahim Adan Ali, the governor of Lower Shabelle region confirmed that Al-Shabab was now in control of the key port town. In an interview with VOA Somali, Abdifatah Ibrahim Geeysey, the security minister of the Southwestern Somali Federal State also confirmed that militants have seized Merca.
There is no official word as to why government troops have vacated the town but the withdrawal comes just hours after Al-Shabab militants stormed a Somali military base at Laanta Buur, a former prison 40km southwest of Mogadishu.
HOL reported that there were ten government casualties in that attack.
In an eerily similar situation, Al-Shabab militants captured the same military base after government and AU troops withdrew from their positions in February of this year. The militants held the base until government troops returned and forced them into retreat after a brief battle.
Al-Shabab has been fighting an insurgency war in Somalia to impose its own strict variety of Sharia law since 2006. It lost control of the capital in 2011 but has been able to stage sporadic gun and bomb attacks both in Somalia and East Africa.