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Somalis Welcome Defeat of al-Shabaab Islamists

Somalis are celebrating reports of the defeat of the Islamic fundamentalist group al-Shabab after several members of their fighters were killed Sunday in fierce clashes in central Somalia. Al-Shabab, described as by Washington as a terrorist organization, clashed with Islamist group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca for control of central Somalia as Ethiopian troops began their crucial withdrawal. Several al-Shabab militant fighters were reported killed and their weapons seized. Sheik Abdulkarim Risak is a senior officer of the Islamic group Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that his fighters will continue fighting al-Shabab until they are flushed out of Somalia.

"As you already know, early in the morning they (al-Shabab) came from different places to Gruael. You know, most of the Somalis call them al-Shabab, but in the Somali language we say they are al-Shaar because they are evil really. They come fighting in different places and killed a lot of people, but Allah willing, we saved our people and we pushed them back some kilometers," Risak noted.

He said his Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca fighters would continue to protect mainstream defenseless Somalis.

"We are defending ourselves. We are defending our wives. And we are defending our religion. Our religion prohibits Muslims fighting among ourselves, and you know, these people are not Muslims at all. They are foreign fighters, and I think they are al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is not functioning here in Somalia," he said.

Risak said his group is full of devout Muslims who pleaded with al-Shabab not to attack them, but claims that was not heeded.

"In here we consider Islam as a very good religion and we are not at war with anybody. We already told them to please not enter into our area of influence and internal affairs, but they refused that," Risak pointed out.

He said his group would continue to flush out fighters belonging to al-Shabab.

"Thanks to Allah, we have taught them a lesson today because they left at least 50 persons dead. And I think most of them are foreigners, and maybe they might be coming from South East Asia. And today they have received a good lesson. And I think they would not fight again because this is the latest casualties they have received in Gureal... and now we are moving to the capital, Mogadishu. We will continue to chase them wherever they are, and even if they are in a corner of our country, I think we would not stop our fighting," he said.

Meanwhile, Somali political analysts say there is a high possibility that the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops could usher in a new chapter of violence, adding that it may also open a window of opportunity to bring some Islamist groups into the political process and form a broad, inclusive government.

Some witnesses of Sunday's clashes between al-Shabab and Ahlu Sunna Waljamaca say at least 20 people, mostly fighters of al-Shabab, were killed.