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    Somalia, AU Troops Capture al-Shabab Stronghold

    Somali government and African Union forces have seized an area on the outskirts of Mogadishu from al-Qaida-linked rebels.

    Officials say the forces launched an attack to seize Maslah from militant group al-Shabab early Friday.  Witnesses report the troops seized control of the northern area after a gunbattle that lasted several hours.  

    The African Union force, known as AMISOM, said the operation was meant to deny al-Shabab an area from which it had launched attacks in the capital.

    Somali government and AU forces pushed al-Shabab out of Mogadishu last year but the militant group has since carried out deadly suicide bombings in the city.

    The group, which recently formalized an alliance with al-Qaida, is the target of a regional offensive backed by the AU, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  

    Al-Shabab is fighting Somalia's weak transitional government in an attempt to impose its strict version of Islamic law on the country.

    The group once controlled nearly all of the capital and most of southern and central Somalia.  But it has steadily lost ground for the past 18 months.  

    Somali government and Ethiopian troops recently took the key towns of Beledweyne and Baidoa, while Kenyan troops have seized areas in the south.

    Last month, al-Qaida announced a formal alliance with al-Shabab, though the groups are thought to have had informal ties for several years.

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