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30 Nov 2009 13:12
Hundreds of Somali refugees have fled to Kenya after rebels suspected of links to al-Qaeda seized a Somali town near the border, residents said.
Al-Shabaab insurgents, who Washington says are a proxy for Osama bin Laden’s group in Somalia, took control of Dhobley on Saturday after chasing rival Hizbul Islam rebels out of town.
Al-Shabaab said a number of Hizbul Islam leaders had also sought shelter across the border in Kenya after the fighting.
“A group of Somalis sneaked in late last night but three trucks with more than 200 Somalis were intercepted by patrol officers at dawn today and all those on board taken back to the border,” said Abdirizak, a Kenyan resident near the border.
There were also fears among Kenyan residents that al-Shabaab might carry the fight across the border.
“We are worried. Al-Shabaab has threatened to attack Kenya.
They are very close and some of us might leave the border area.”
A senior al-Shabaab official said in June the insurgents might “invade” Kenya unless it reduced troop numbers along the border near places such as Dhobley.
Police deputy commander for the region, Paul Kuria, said security officials were patrolling the frontier.
Al-Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Hassan Yaqub told Reuters that some Hizbul Islam leaders were also now sheltering in Kenya.
The two rebel groups have been fighting the Western-backed government in the capital Mogadishu, but a battle for control of the lucrative southern port of Kismayu has pitted the former allies against each other.
“I can confirm that Ibrahim Shugri, Moalim Mohamed and Hassan Mahdi passed the so-called border between Kenya and Somalia and have reached Garissa,” he said, referring to Hizbul Islam leaders.
“Our intelligence informed us they had a meeting with Kenyan officers in a hotel and they want to go on to Nairobi.
Yaqub said that al-Shabaab had also met Sheikh Hassan Turki, in Dhobley. The hardline cleric is on a United States list of al-Qaeda associates in Somalia.
Turki is Hizbul deputy leader and the commander of southern Somalia’s Ras Kamboni militant group. He denounced al-Shabaab in September for unilaterally declaring they would run Kismayu.
“Some our officials met Hassan Turki in Dhobley, and as you know, Turki is one of the brave Islamist leaders in east Africa. They spoke with him about current issues,” Yaqub said.
The purpose of the meeting was unclear, but if al-Shabaab rebels convince Turki to join them, it would be a blow to Hizbul leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.—Reuters
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