Officials in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia tell VOA that Puntland security forces have killed two members of a militant Somali Islamic youth group called the Shabbab and arrested six others, following a day-long standoff with the police in the port city of Bossasso. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi reports several of the men arrested today are believed to have links to terrorist suspects targeted by the U.S. in Puntland in June.
Puntland's Minister for Fisheries, Ports and Marine Transport, Said Mohamed Rage, tells VOA that security forces targeted a house in Bossasso on Thursday, after receiving information that members of the Mogadishu-based Shabbab were holed up inside.
The minister says police found heavily-armed men, refusing to surrender. He says the men opened fire on the police, sparking a gun battle and a stand-off that ended Friday morning.
"There were about eight persons in the house," Rage said. "They are Shabbab. Two of the fundamentalists died and four police were injured."
About two weeks ago, Puntland officials say they arrested 12 Somalis in Bossasso, following a counter-terrorism operation in the city.
The 12 men are accused of being members of the Shabbab, which is led by al-Qaida and Taliban-trained militants and is committed to turning Somalia into an ultra-conservative Islamic state. The Shabbab has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide and roadside bombing attacks against Ethiopian and Somali troops protecting the country's fragile secular government in the capital.
Rage says the men targeted in Thursday's raid are thought to have been planning a terrorist operation to disrupt court proceedings against the 12 men on trial.
The minister also claims that several of the men inside the house were part of a large group of radical Islamists, who arrived by boat at a small coastal settlement in Puntland called Baar-gaal in early June.
The Islamists, who belonged to the Islamic Courts Union that was routed from the Somali capital Mogadishu by an Ethiopia-led offensive last December, clashed with Puntland troops in Baar-gaal before fleeing into nearby mountains. Several of the Islamists with alleged ties to the al-Qaida terror network were also targeted by U.S. airplanes in Baar-gaal.
Rage says Puntland's government is convinced that the Islamists who evaded capture in Baar-gaal are using the port in Bossasso to transfer arms and weapons from terror groups in the Middle East to Mogadishu.
During the counter-terrorism operation two weeks ago, Rage says security forces found a cache of weapons and materials for suicide bombs, destined for the Somali capital.
There have been no independent reports of arms being shipped to Somalia through Puntland.
But a U.N. monitoring group has accused Ethiopia's arch rival, Eritrea, of supplying arms to radical Islamists in Somalia. Eritrean officials have vehemently denied the charge.