Shabaab and Hizbul Islam are acting quickly to curb the internecine war between their fighters in the port town of Kismayo in southern Somalia.
At least 30 people have been killed in more than five hours of fighting after Shabaab launched a predawn raid against Hizbul Islam-held neighborhoods in the northern part of the city.
In truth, the battle was a Mafia-style confrontation over money, not ideology. The seaport and the airport in Kismayo are lucrative sources of taxes and other income for Somali insurgents.
Quite obviously, both cartels didn’t talk business in public. Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Hassan Yaqub told reporters Wednesday that Shabaab has declared a “holy war” on Hizbul Islam and also accused the rival group of promoting “un-Islamic” practices.
“They brought back all the evil acts we banned: killing, looting, drugs, unveiled women,” Yaqub said. “Instead of fighting the infidels … they came to destroy our Islamic authority.”
Hizbul Islam’s executive council spokesman Sheikh Ismail Haji Addow replied on the same day in Mogadishu, threatening Shabaab with an all-out war across Somalia. “We will fight Shabaab everywhere in Somalia if they so much as fire a pistol in Kismayo,” said Addow. “There is no doubt that the fighting will escalate to the entire regions in Somalia where both Hizbul Islam and Shabaab’s factions are jointly controlling.”
The turf fight in Kismayo has little chance of spreading to other regions in Somalia. As both factions – which as recently as last July were seeking a merger into a single outfit – know, a total war is also inconvenient, hence their sudden change in tone at national level just a few hours after they clashed in the South.
Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali “Dheere” Mohamud assured reporters in Mogadishu via a telephone press conference that Shabaab is truly not at war with Hizbul Islam. “Sheikh Ahmed Madobe alone is responsible for the war,” Mohamud said.
Madobe, a senior commander of Ras Kamboni Brigade, also part of Hizbul Islam, led his fighters into Kismayo earlier this week to challenge Shabaab’s rule.
In Mogadishu, a Hizbul Islam spokesman urged Shabaab to “stop the war” and said Hizbul Islam fighters were just “defending themselves”. As of Thursday night, a tense calm prevailed in Kismayo.