Rival factions of al-Shabab militants clashed Wednesday in Somalia, in the latest sign of a split over whether to align with al-Qaida or the Islamic State.
The clash occurred when a group of al-Shabab fighters attacked the hideout of a pro-Islamic State faction, according to residents.
Nine fighters from both sides were killed and eight wounded in the fighting near Saakow in the Middle Juba region. One of the commanders of the pro-IS faction was among those killed, sources say.
Some al-Shabab fighters have called for the group to end its longtime alliance with al-Qaida and pledge loyalty to the Islamic State – an idea so far rejected by al-Shabab's top leaders.
In a speech last week, al-Shabab spokesman Ali Dhere said his group will not allow disunity. Those accused of “dividing the Muslims" will be stopped, he said.
Ali Dhere did not mention IS by name, but he said al-Shabab is the only “legitimate” Islamic authority in Somalia and in East Africa.
This week the Islamic State released a video showing a group of al-Shabab fighters in Somalia's Puntland region pledging allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Al-Shabab has lost most of the territory it once controlled in southern Somalia but continues to carry out deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and in neighboring Kenya.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department offered rewards for information on the whereabouts of six top al-Shabab leaders, including the group's emir, Abu Ubaidah. Ubaidah was named head of al-Shabab in September 2014 after his predecessor, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in a U.S. drone strike.