Somali Islamist militants seized control of the southern town of Merka after national troops withdrew, the second time they’ve captured the strategic port since February, according to a local official and a resident.
Heavily armed al-Shabaab fighters moved into Merka on Monday, occupying government buildings, witness Nurto Hassan said by phone. The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Ibrahim Adan Ali, confirmed the al-Qaeda-linked group was now in control of the town, which is about 60 miles (97 kilometers) from the capital, Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab briefly held Merka in early February when national army and African Union troops pulled out. The forces returned and drove them from the port after a brief battle.
Al-Shabaab has waged an insurgency in the Horn of Africa nation since 2006 to impose its version of Islamic law. While it’s lost territory since being driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, the group continues to stage deadly gun and bomb attacks both at home and around the region.
The militants attacked an army base in Lower Shabelle overnight, killing at least five soldiers, Ali said earlier Monday. In a statement to Radio Andalus, a broadcaster that supports its insurgency, al-Shabaab said it killed 30 Somali troops.