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Somali Insurgents Capture Town Near Mogadishu

Militant Islamists have captured a key town in southern Somalia as they press an offensive against the government.

Witnesses say the insurgent group al-Shabab seized the town of Jowhar Sunday after attacking a pro-government militia whose fighters fled their positions.

Reports from the area say at least three people died in the clash.

Jowhar is 90 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu, where the government controls only small areas after weeks of heavy fighting.

A spokesman for al-Shabab says the group will continue fighting until the government collapses and African Union peacekeepers leave the country.

At least one person was killed in Mogadishu Sunday during an artillery battle between insurgents and government forces. A police training school was hit shortly before President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was due to visit.

In one piece of good news for the government, Somali officials say a key Islamist militia leader, Sheikh Yusuf Indahaadde, has defected to the government side.

The government still faces a tough battle against al-Shabab and other insurgent groups striving to establish an Islamic state.

Al-Shabab and its allies control most of southern and central Somalia after a nearly two and a half year insurgency.

Somalia has not had a stable central government since 1991.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.