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In Somalia, an Islamist faction says it considers its former ally, al-Shabab, to be the greatest threat to the country. A spokesman for the leader of the Ras Kamboni faction of Hizbul Islam says Hizbul Islam fighters are preparing to challenge al-Shabab in all areas of southern and central Somalia.
The spokesman for the leader of the Ras Kamboni Brigade tells VOA the fight against al-Shabab militants, which began in late September in the southern port city of Kismayo, is expected to continue until al-Shabab is ousted from Somalia.
Abdinasir Seraar is the spokesman for Ahmed Madobe, the military commander al-Shabab has repeatedly blamed for triggering the conflict in Kismayo.
Seraar says the fight against al-Shabab will move from the Jubba region to regions of Gedo and Middle and Lower Shabelle, including the capital Mogadishu. He says Hizbul Islam's goal is to liberate the country from al-Shabab militants, who Seraar says are indiscriminately killing innocent Somalis and trying to wipe out Somali culture.
Ras Kamboni Brigade and its ally, Anole, are clan-based factions of Hizbul Islam, a fundamentalist nationalist opposition group that formed an alliance with al-Shabab earlier this year to oppose the U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu. Another faction of Hizbul Islam is led by Hassan Dahir Aweys, who briefly ruled Somalia in 2006 as the spiritual head of the Islamic Courts Union.
Ras Kamboni and Anole took up arms against al-Shabab after al-Shabab tried to impose sole control over Kismayo and its port, which serves as an important source of revenue for all sides.
Al-Shabab, which is on a U.S. list of terrorist groups for having ties to al-Qaida, suddenly found itself at war with Hassan Turki, a long-established hardline Islamist/nationalist leader, who is also listed as a terrorist by the United States. Turki had been commanding the Ras Kamboni Brigade until he fell gravely ill about three months ago.
Mindful of Turki's popularity among hardline Islamists and nationalists in Somalia, al-Shabab's leadership in Kismayo has been careful not implicate Hassan Turki in the conflict, casting blame solely on Turki's successor, Ahmed Madobe.
Late last month, Islamist fighting spread to the towns of Afmadow and Dobley in Lower Juba, with al-Shabab claiming victory. Al-Shabab's spokesman for the Jubba regions, Hassan Yacqub, told reporters Ahmed Madobe fled into neighboring Kenya with his fighters after losing Dobley. But Seraar says that is a lie.
He says Madobe is in Somalia, still in command of his fighters. He says Hizbul Islam made a tactical retreat from Afmadow and Dobley and forces there are re-grouping to launch a counter-offensive, which could happen at any time.
It is still not clear how much Somalia's transitional federal government will benefit from the split among the Islamist opposition in the south.
For the past 10 months, government forces and African Union peacekeepers have been battling near-daily attacks by Hizbul Islam and al-Shabab forces in Mogadishu.
In a sign that Ras Kamboni and Anole factions may have difficulty convincing other Hizbul Islam fighters to shift the focus of the insurgency toward al-Shabab, the spokesman for Hizbul Islam in Mogadishu told reporters Tuesday his group is preparing to increase attacks against the transitional government and African Union forces.