Al-Shabab militants have captured a key Somali town near with the border with Kenya, according to witnesses.
Residents in El Wak told VOA's Somali service that heavily armed Shabab fighters attacked the town from two directions late Friday and now control it.
"The soldiers were attacked by al-Shabab; government forces were overpowered," said a resident who declined to give his name due to security concerns.
Witnesses say at least four people — among them two government soldiers and two civilians — were caught in crossfire near a military base and killed.
Immediately after entering El Wak, Shabab fighters attacked the government base on the southern side of the town. Witnesses say they saw Somali government soldiers fleeing across the border into Kenya.
Fighting subsided as night fell and civilians stayed indoors. Al-Shabab "battle wagons" — pickup trucks with large guns mounted on the back — were reportedly patrolling the town.
"No one can step outside; we don’t know how long they will stay in the town," another resident said of the militants, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses say the Shabab force consists of about 200 fighters with a dozen battle wagons.
The town’s telecommunication network was disconnected earlier Friday. Residents blame al-Shabab for taking down the phone network.
El Wak is a strategic town and a main supply route for Kenyan troops operating in southwestern Somalia. Al-Shabab lost the town in 2011 to Somali government forces.