Somali security forces clashed with fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) over the weekend, reportedly the first military confrontation with the group in the Horn of Africa country.
The governor of Bari, a region in the semi-autonomous Puntland state in northeastern Somalia, told Voice of America’s (VOA) Somali service that Puntland security forces had killed seven militants after encountering a landmine laid by the group, which they attempted to dismantle.
Bari Governor Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo said that three soldiers were injured in a firefight, and that all of the militants killed were Somalis.
A faction of al-Shabab, Somalia’s largest militant group, pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015. The link to ISIS caused a rupture with the leadership of al-Shabab, which has aligned itself with al-Qaeda and has conducted a purge of fighters who have shown sympathy for ISIS.
The ISIS-aligned cell, led by former al-Shabab commander and British citizen Abdiqadir Mumin, seized control of the small port town of Qandala in Puntland in October. All the residents of the town had fled after the militants raised their black flag atop the district commissioner’s headquarters, according to VOA, and Dhedo said that the militants were armed with machine guns and bazookas. A Puntland navy commander said on Sunday that Qandala was yet to be liberatedfrom the militants.
While ISIS’s central leadership in Syria and Iraq has not formally recognized the group as an official affiliate, it has claimed responsibility for attacks in Somalia and declared the country to be an “area of medium control” in a poster published in June reported by Vocativ.
In an exclusive interview with Newswee k, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke said that ISIS could be the “reality of tomorrow” in Somalia if the splinter group—which has based itself out of the Golis Mountains in the north of the country—was not dealt with immediately.
BY CONOR GAFFEY