Somali government says it has ousted Islamist militia from town

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Oct. 23 (UPI) — A regional government in Somalia says it’s in control of a town in the central part of the country after a clash with an Islamist militia.

The fighting began early Saturday morning in the town of Guri-El when Somali troops attacked bases held by Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, reports Voice of America, citing witnesses and regional officials.

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Both sides used heavy artillery, mortars, machine guns and vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft guns in the clash that left 20 people dead and more than 40 wounded, reports VOA. The United Nations told VOA that over 100,000 people had been displaced by the military buildup.

“We have driven the militia out of the town and now they are firing back from the outskirts,” Col. Abdirisaq Mohamud Yusuf told VOA.

Ahmed Shire Falagle, Galmudug State’s minister of information, told Radio Muqdisho that with the town under the control of the armed forces, the perpetrators of the attack are being prosecuted and those displaced should return home.

However, unnamed witnesses told VOA that government forces only managed to hold control of the police station, district headquarters and several of the militia’s buildings.

“None of the two sides is in full control [of the town] yet,” one witness told VOA. “We can hear heavy gunfire and shelling. The government soldiers are positioned at strategic bases at the heart of the town.”

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Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a has been described as a more moderate Islamist group that has clashed with the more militant al-Shabab. Sheikh Shakir, leader of Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a, previously told VOA that it was taking control of towns to protect people from al-Shabab.