Pro-Islamic State militants have seized their first big town in the Puntland region of Somalia, officials and residents told VOA.
The militants moved into the Red Sea town of Qandala, 90 miles east of Bosaso, in the early hours of Wednesday without any confrontations.
Officials from the Puntland administration have left the town. The chairman of the town, Jama Mohamed Mumin, confirmed to VOA's Somali Service that the town was seized by “Daesh.”
A resident in the town told VOA Somali that about 60 militants entered the town and hoisted their flag on top of the police station and another historical building.
“Early in the morning they restricted our movement, now they eased restrictions and we are trying to leave the town,” says the resident, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
He said local elders met with the militants and told them to leave the town but says the militants insisted ‘they are not going anywhere."
The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi a year ago.
Last month, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.
A former al-Shabab member estimates that about 200 pro-IS fighters are in the group. A security expert puts the number a bit higher at 300.
Qandala is a strategic port town facing the coastal towns of Yemen. The former Intelligence Director of Puntland Abdi Hassan said earlier that IS has started delivering supplies through their affiliate faction in Yemen.
“They received military supplies from Yemen – weapons, uniform, ISIS sent trainers who inspected their bases, and they have started sending financial support,” he said. “The weapons’ shipment was delivered by sea from Mukallah city in Hadramouth, it has arrived from the Red Sea coast of Somalia in February and March this year.”