, MOGADISHU, Aug 19 – An alliance of pro-government fighters on Wednesday recaptured the southwestern Somali town of Luq, which had previously been controlled by the extremist Shebab group, officials and witnesses said.
Local clan militias trained in Ethiopia and the moderate Sufi religious group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa reclaimed the town, located around 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, early on Wednesday without any fighting.
"Our forces took control of the town without fighting," Colonel Mohamed Osman Weli told AFP by phone. "The hardline elements ran away from us before we got to them, now we fully control the town."
Witnesses said the pro-government forces crossed over the neighbouring Ethiopian town of Dolow before marching on to Luq.
Further down the same road from Luq is the city of Baidoa, which is the former seat of parliament and one of the Shebab’s current strongholds.
"There were no clashes this morning but we saw the pro-government militia enter the town from the direction of Dolow and they now control it," said Abdullahi Salat, a local elder.
"They took the police station and control other official buildings."
"Heavily-armed fighters led by a well-known colonel entered the town and took it," Luq resident Hussein Mohamed confirmed. "They were well-equipped and some of them even had uniforms."
On Monday, the same pro-government outfit retook the nearby town of Bulohawo, which sits on the border with Kenya and had recently been under the control of the Shebab, an Al Qaeda-inspired group.
The forces which ousted the Shebab from Luq and Bulohawo include many fighters loyal to Barre Hirale, a prominent military leader from the Marehan clan dominant in the region who was ousted a year ago from Kismayo by a top Islamist leader Hassan al-Turki and the Shebab.
Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, a Sufi organisation with strong popular support that took up arms in recent months to repel the Shebab, recently inflicted heavy losses on Islamist hardline groups further up the Ethiopian border.