Al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, Shabaab, stated yesterday that it’s men have captured a town in the disputed Sanaag region of northern Somalia.
While the federal government of Somalia claims Sanaag, the region is effectively under the control of the Somaliland administration.
“Fighters of Shabaab captured the town of Gacan Maroodi, which sits 50km from Ceerigabo in the northern Somali state of Sanaag after forces of the Somaliland administration fled,” Shabaab’s original statement reads.
In another statement, Shabaab’s military spokesman Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, congratulated the jihadists saying that “this is the first time the mujahideen of Shabaab has controlled a town in Somaliland.”
While Shabaab fighters did indeed invade the town, it is not immediately clear if the group currently holds the locale or not. Somali media reported that the jihadists entered the town yesterday after traveling from the nearby Cal Madow Mountains.
VOA’s Somali service also confirmed that Shabaab briefly occupied the town, lecturing the residents along the way. VOA also notes that Shabaab fighters previously entered Gacan Maroodi in recent days to buy food and supplies.
While Shabaab has tried to portray the town’s inhabitants as receptive to the jihadist forces, other local media reported that local clan militias have “already begun an uprising.”
Shabaab’s occupation of the Somaliland town, however brief, marks a significant development in the conflict. While Somaliland, especially its capital Hargeisa, have been hit by Shabaab attacks in the past, it has largely escaped much of the violence.
The jihadist group maintains active cells in the Golis and Galgala Mountains of northern Somalia, despite military operations against it there for almost a decade. The Islamic State in Somalia is also headquartered in the mountain areas of Puntland, though it faces a strong threat from Shabaab.
A weakening of security in the Somaliland administration, which is possible given territorial disputes with Puntland and the current political instability in Somaliland, could provide Shabaab more space to operate in the area.