, NAIROBI, Apr 13 – Somalia’s Al-Qaeda allied Shabaab have urged followers to open a new front in the northern breakaway region of Puntland, as the rebels find themselves encircled by regional armies in the south.
Influential hardliner Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, who issues Islamic decrees for areas under the command of the extremist gunmen, left in recent days the Shabaab-held Afgoye region outside Mogadishu for the north.
“The people of Puntland must join the struggle like the people of southern Somalia to defend the will of God,” Mumin said Friday in a broadcast on the Shabaab’s Radio Andalus.
Mumin, one of the most senior Shabaab leaders to leave the insurgent’s southern Somali heartlands, was “accompanied by a large number of young fighters who come from the Puntland regions,” the broadcast added.
“Men and women, merchants and intellectuals, must take up their guns,” added Mumin, who is believed to be now based in the rugged Golis mountains.
The broadcasts add weight to analysts’ reports that some Shabaab factions are shifting from increasingly hostile southern Somali bases, under attack from Ethiopian and African Union troops, including Kenyan soldiers in the far south.
The Golis mountains, straddling the porous border between Puntland and self-declared independent Somaliland, is honeycombed with caves and difficult to access.
Officials fear it could become the ideal hide-out for extremists and foreign fighters in Somalia, and it is already the base of Mohamed Said Atom, a rebel commander allied to the Shabaab who is fighting Puntland’s moderate government led by President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole.
“The war is starting in every part of Puntland… you have to buy your guns and fight – in the south, even the elderly and girls are part of the struggle,” Mumim added.