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UPDATE: Al-Shabaab arrested 25 people at 19:00 local time on Thursday who were attempting to flee Kismayo and vowed to punish others who might also try and leave the city, Kismayo resident, Fu'ad, told Somalia Report this evening.
Al-Shabaab insurgents refused to allow Somalis living in areas under their control to vacate potential target areas despite warnings from the Kenyan government that residents should evacuate in anticipate of an attack.
Al-Shabaab is requiring people to stay in their homes as human shields and remain there until the fighting and airstrikes are over.
‘’The insurgents used loudspeakers inside cities and told the residents not to flee from their homes or they will face severe punishment,‘’ a resident in Kismayo told Somalia Report on the condition of anonymity.
‘’People began to flee at night after al-Shabaab threatened to kill residents if they tried to escape or flee to other cities,‘’ said Rahmo, a female resident in Marka of Lower Shebelle region.
Yesterday residents began fleeing towns and villages under the control of militant Islamist group al-Shabaab after the Kenyan military issued a warning that attacks were imminent.
Kenyan military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir on Tuesday used his twitter account to announce that Baidoa, Baadheere, Badydhabo, Dinsur, Afgoye, Bwale, Barawe, Jilib, Kismayo and Afmadow will be “under attack continuously”.
Hussein Alliyow - a resident of Jilib, where the Kenyans were accused of killing civilians in an air strike – said that he was moving his family to Kismayo, which he believed was safer.
"My wife suffered minor injuries from the air strike ... now we and other families are on the way to Lower Shabelle region, we don’t know where to turn to,” he told Somalia Report.
Sucado Abdi, from Barawe, told Somalia Report he was leaving as he lived near an al-Shabaab base and he feared being caught up in fighting, as al-Shabaab fighters in the area were all wearing civilian clothes, making it impossible for advancing forces to differentiate between fighters and non-combatants.
Residents from the other towns listed told a similar story.
“There is fear in the whole region, and people living around al-Shabaab camps have fled fearing airstrikes targeting al-Shabaab," Dahirow Garrow, a resident in Baidoa, told Somalia Report.
Over the last six months, there are many airstrikes carried out in many al-Shabaab bases in southern Somalia, while at the same time causing many casualties to the al-Shabaab and civilians.
Kenya has been asked to minimize civilian casualties, and said it would investigate any reports that their forces were responsible for the deaths of non-combatants. Regarding the air strike in Jilib, Chirchir said it was an opportunistic raid targeting a visiting al-Shabaab leader, and that 10 al-Shabaab fighters were killed, but no civilians. Kenya claimed the civilian casualties were caused by a damaged al-Shabaab technical, which drove into a crowd before exploding.
There has yet to be any fierce ground fighting in Kenya’s military advance – which is aimed at eliminating al-Shabaab after a spate of kidnappings on Kenyan soil – but this is set to change as the Kenyan and TFG forces closed in on Afmadow and Kismayo in particular.
Al-Shabaab has been pouring in reinforcements to key areas, and TFG officials and Baidoa residents also reported the delivery of arms by aircraft to Baidoa, allegedly provided by Eritrea. Chirchir also said they had reliable information these arms were delivered.
Al-Shabaab insurgent has ordered the people living around the airport of Baidoa to move away from their houses until further notice, and residents said that many militants had been deployed there.
“The order is from the chairman, and it's a security issue; we don’t want to tell you the exact issue, but we are sure people will very soon go back to their houses,” Abu Ramla, a junior al-Shabaab officer in Baidoa, told Somalia Report.
Ibrahim Abdi Daash also contributed to this report.