According to reports from Somalia, al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa has reportedly recaptured the strategic port city of Marka in the Lower Shabelle region. If confirmed, this is just the latest in a long back and forth for control over the city of Marka since 2012.
Shabaab first announced the regaining the city through its radio stations, as well as its social media accounts, three days ago. The jihadist group said that its forces reclaimed the city without a fight after African Union (AU) forces withdrew from the town. The news was first authenticated by the independent Radio Shabelle and residents of the city yesterday. However, the AU has denied withdrawing from the city. In a statement to Radio Shabelle, an AU official said that, “This is false information, Al Shabaab did not take the city, AMISOM forces are just 800m away from the city center and doing their security patrol as always.”
In a statement released today, the deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region confirmed that it was the Somalia National Army that withdrew from the city and not the AU. The governor said that the withdraw was a “tactical decision.” Photos have also been released by Shabaab and are purportedly from within the last three days. However, AMISOM has tweeted that its forces have seen no militants in the city and scenes of its forces within Marka.
Shabaab first recaptured the city of Marka in February after AU and Somali military forces withdrew from the city. However, the city was retaken by government forces just days later. Shabaab originally lost control of Marka in August 2012 after the Kenyan military invaded southern Somalia in response to Shabaab raids in northern Kenya. While Shabaab lost control of the major population centers in southern Somalia during the Kenyan and African Union offensive, the group maintained its military strength and retreated to rural areas of the country. (See LWJ report, Shabaab regains ground in southern Somalia.)
Shabaab has been able to mount attacks in the region despite the presence of a large African Union mission in Somalia. The jihadist group has also launched numerous suicide assaults on heavily guarded hotels in Mogadishu this year. It has continuously targeted African Union troops in southern Somalia and has taken back some territory in the process. Shabaab has mounted operations in the central part of Somalia and into neighboring Kenya, as well. In late November, Shabaab said its forces temporarily took control over a Kenyan town bordering Somalia.
Photos reportedly showing Shabaab fighters in Marka:
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