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As allied forces gain territory in central Somalia from the al-Shabaab militant group, tensions are rising among the Ethiopian, Somali and pro-government militia forces over control of areas recently seized. In addition local residents are worried how the tension is affecting them. Ceel-Buur (Ceelbur or El-Bur) in Somalia's Galgaduud region is no exception.
Although Ethiopian and ASWJ forces took control of the city on March 26th of this year after Shabaab fled on March 24th, the allied forces were forced to abandon Ceel-Buur by the militants over the weekend. By Monday ASWJ fighters also abandoned Mahas district of Hiiran region and Wabho district, 40 kilometers from Ceel-Buur.
An unspecified number of al-Shabaab fighters who entered Ceel-Buur shortly after the Ethiopians and ASWJ forces fled killed at least two residents after accusing them of working with the Ethiopian soldiers. Several residents who spoke to Somalia Report said they are worried that any side that controls the town will accuse them of working for the other, as was the case in Beledweyne in recent months.
An investigation by Somalia Report revealed that most residents in Ceel-Bur opted to flee their homes prior to the initial fighting in March. For those that stayed, however, businesses remained closed and they have had difficult time dealing with the Ethiopian forces as well as the ASWJ fighters who were constantly on edge due to fear of imminent reprisal attacks by Islamist militants. What is more interesting is that ASWJ group is unpopular in the districts of Ceel-Bur, Ceelgaras, Wabho and Warxoolo where the tribes of Murusade and Duduble, al-Shabaab’s main contributors for troops, reside.
Al-Shabaab’s spokesman Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage told local media on Sunday that their fighters in Galgaduud have been actively engaged with guerilla warfare that created havoc among the Ethiopian military forces and ASWJ in Ceel-Buur and nearby villages although his claims could not be independently verified.
“Thanks to God and the people of Galgaduud especially Ceel-Buur, Ceelgaras, Wabho and the neighboring districts who expressed hatred towards the incursion of their enemy who is also the enemy of Allah. Our brave bothers in the Harakat Shabaabul Mujahideen defeated and recaptured Ceel-Buur with the help of voluntary fighters from the residents,” Mr. Rage told pro- al-Shabaab Radio Andulus.
“The movement and the transportations of the enemy in the areas between Ceel-Buur and Guriceel were complicated and we killed many of soldiers from Ethiopia and the so-called ASWJ militias in a string of ambushes carried out by our fighters,” he added.
These two clans, sub-clans of Hawiye, are playing an important role by supporting al-Shabaab’s hit and run attacks on the allied forces in their districts. Many of them do not want to see ASWJ fighters controlling their areas since there are no more Murusade and Duduble fighters within ASWJ group.
In 2010, the overall commander of al-Shabaab, Ahmed Godane (Sheikh Abdirahman abu-Subeyr) acknowledged the role of those clans in the Somali Jihad. He said that Murusade, Duduble and Galjecel are the main volunteers of Jihad both militarily and with their public support.
“It is shame for us to sell things to the invaders so we left the city for rural areas near Ceel-Buur. We are now arranging to return since our city has been recaptured by al-Shabaab al-Mujaahideen,” one businessman who identified himself as Abdiqani told Somalia Report.
“We had no problems with al-Shabaab but when the allied forces captured our city everything became crazy and complicated,” he added.
There many others who do not want to support al-Shabaab, but felt the city was safer before the allied forces took control and fought amongst each other. They simply have no better option, residents said.
Although the motive behind the allies abandoning key cities like Ceel-Buur, Mahas and Wabho remains unknown, some ASWJ officials claimed it was a part of their military tactics. However the decision was disappointing to many residents and supporters living in the areas controlled by ASWJ group, a moderate Islamists who are fighting alone now.
“You cannot just resolve all the matters in these districts at once only by force. What we want is to get moral support from the public to have more infiltrators in the villages controlled by al-Qaeda linked remnants. We believe that without having the support of the community you cannot move your objectives forward,” said ASWJ official Abdi Hassan.
He further noted that al-Shabaab has been controlling in Ceel-Buur and nearby villages for more than three years and many people have since been brainwashed by militants. Youths from Burusade and Duduble clans in the area have no idea about ASWJ ideology, but only consider them greedy armed clans who are united to capture their homes with the help of the Ethiopian forces. This helps al-Shabaab to get more fighters for its jihad against the incursion of the allied forces into those districts.
Some Duduble politicians within Somali government condemned the capture of Ceel-Buur by ASWJ fighters in March. These politicians, like the former TFG information Minister Farhan Mohamud, turned the ASWJ war with al-Shabaab into one about clan affiliation.
ASWJ fighters, a moderate Islamists, are not like a government; they serve as a three different clans from Mareehan, Ceyr and Dir who are committed to eradicating al-Shabaab from the region.
On May 1, al-Shabaab claimed the responsibility of suicide attack in Dhusamareeb that killed several people included two Somali lawmakers. At the same time the reprisal reaction of the attack by some ASWJ fighters was bad for Duduble clan after two businessmen from their clan were arrested in Dhusamareeb and they were shot in cold blood by angry militia within the group.
Opposing Interests and Infighting
A prominent sheikh of ASWJ, Omar Sheikh Mohamed Farah, passed away in a car accident in Mudug region in late May. “As you may know Sheikh Omar was important person for us since he was the only influential cleric from Murusade clan in Ceel-Buur within our group. He was a powerful and influential person and we were not able to arrive in Ceelbur and nearby villages without him,” junior ASWJ commander Ahmed told Somalia Report.
His death was followed by rifts among the members of the group that led several of them to meet in Guriceel who then removed Prof. Hersi Mohamed Hilowle (Laba garle) as the group’s leader. The members accused him acting properly in his role and avoiding responsiblity, but the professor opposed the decision. He claimed that such a decision was exclusive to a very few ASWJ members while majority of his group members are satisfied with his role as an executive leader of the group.