‘I’m Scared These Men Will Kill Everyone’: ISIS Takes a Somalia Town

Daacishta SoomaaliyaNAIROBI, Kenya — The black flag of the Islamic State went up over an old, crumbling coastal town in Somalia at dawn on Wednesday, the latest sign of a sharpening duel between Somalia’s top two militant groups.

According to officials and residents, dozens of masked men carrying heavy machine guns, assault rifles and the Islamic State flag marched into Qandala, an ancient trading post on the Gulf of Aden.

There was no resistance, the witnesses said. The Islamic State fighters simply walked down the main road into Qandala, a town known in Somalia for its old white castle on the sea. Residents stood back, staring with a mix of awe and fear. Even the fishermen who usually ply the warm waters of the gulf did not go to sea on Wednesday, banned by the militants.

“I’m scared that these men will kill everyone — civilians, soldiers, officials,” Jama Mohamed Khuurshe, the town’s commissioner, said at a news conference.

For months, the Shabab, Somalia’s leading Islamist militants, have been trying to beat back an insurgency within an insurgency. The Shabab have terrorized Somalia for years, hacking off hands of suspected thieves and detonating enormous suicide car bombs that kill scores in its relentless effort to bring fundamentalist Shariah law to Somalia. Shabab fighters seem to resent the new Islamic State upstarts, who in the past few months have been opening their own training camps and militant cells in remote towns across Somalia.

Those who have recently defected from the Shabab said it was very dangerous to show any interest in the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“The Shabab decided to kill anyone suspected of supporting ISIS,” said Hassan Adan, who fought for the Shabab for four years. He said the Aminyat — the Shabab’s secret service — had assassinated several Somali representatives of the Islamic State.

“The fighting between them is a struggle over power, not principle,” Mr. Hassan added.

Somali’s clans are widening the divide. Just about all Somalis share the same ethnicity, religion and language.

But Somalia is deeply divided by clans and subclans, and Mr. Hassan said members of the large Darod clan were more likely to join the Islamic State because they chafed at the level of control that other clans, like the Hawiye, exercised over the Shabab.

Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis over the 25 years since its central government collapsed. Hundreds of thousands have perished from famine; many others have died in clan fighting and suicide attacks.

Analysts worry that an intensifying rivalry between the Shabab and the Islamic State would add a new dimension to Somalia’s violence. Half a dozen armies, including a contingent of American Special Forces, are already operating inside Somalia.

With Somalia’s fledging central government still weak and roundly despised, most analysts predict that Somalia will continue to spawn militant groups for years.

Just this week, the Shabab killed 12 people in neighboring Kenya, bombing a hotel in a northeastern town and then bragging on a Shabab website about eliminating “infidels.”

Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Source: Nytimes


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