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High ranking officials from Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland paid a surprise visit to the areas surrounding Galgala, home to Sheikh Atom's al-Shabaab linked militia, to assess the security situation in the mountains of Bari region and seek the support of local residents.
Puntland's Minister of Livestock Said Hassan Shire led the delegation to Af-urur village, 20 km from Galgala, and was accompanied by Deputy Minister of Security Abdijamal Osman Mohamed, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Farah Ali Abdi, and Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Said Dahir.
“We are here to learn what you believe about al-Shabaab in your territory and what you are going to do with us. The government is ready to help you. We need to know if we have your support," Deputy Minister Farah Ali asked the residents.
While there, the deputy minister of security issued a deadline for the al-Shabaab militias, which aligned with Atom's militia in February, to surrender themselves to the government. In turn, the villagers presented three former militia fighters Yousuf Ahmed Mohamed, Mohamed Hassan Ahmed and Abdiqani Ali, and urged the government to forgive them. Two of the men are originally from Af-urur village while the other hails from Buhodle city of Togdher region; all three men were pardoned.
“We are among the fighters. We fought against the government troops in several attacks, but we were misled. We don't know about any future attacks and we will no longer fight. We will work with our government, we are happy to be given harmony," Yousuf Ahmed told the officials.
Elder Sugule Jama, who spoke on behalf of residents, vowed their support to the government and confirmed the surrender.
“We are supporting the government. We are not allowing any al-Shabaab activities in our area. The people here are against al-Shabaab. We handed over three former Atom militias who fled their militias after al-Shabaab arrived in the territory," Mr. Sugule told Somalia Report.
The residents also welcomed the delegation at the meeting in a public forum and said they are ready to fight against al-Shabaab until the region is free from the Islamic insurgents, a message the officials readily accepted.
“This is not first time we have visited this town. We came here days before, but today we are here to listen to your ideas and we will give your voice to government leaders," Abdijamal Osman also told the villagers.
The minister also spoke to Somalia Report about the visit.
“The government and its troops are ready to go forward and rid of this area from the extremist movement. Anyone who surrenders to the government before the hard attacks will be forgiven as President Farole previously announced. Today we got the voice of the Af-urur inhabitants and they told that they are ready to fight al-Shabaab; we will give the results to the government leaders. Now that we have their support, we are ready to fight," said the deputy minister.
When such an attack might occur remains unknown but is likely imminent now that the villagers have pledged their support. “We don’t tell the media everything. Our attack can be anytime, but I want to confirm to you that after this report, we will take action against al-Shabaab in Galgala. We will clear our territory and any fighter who doesn’t surrender himself to us before that time will be treated as a criminal and will face the law. There will be no excuses or pardons after our attacks," he told Somalia Report.
Omar Sardeye, a resident of Af-urur village, vowed his support.
“If al-Shabaab reaches our territory, we will not be free and they will pressure us. We are not going to let foreigners dominate our land. We are with the government and we are ready to fight al-Shabaab in Galgala and all the mountains in which they are hiding," he told Somalia Report.
Puntland forces battled Atom's militia in the village two year ago in what is known as the Galgala campaign.