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Forces Retake Somali Town Held by Pro-Islamic State Fighters

(Left to Right) Puntland Planning Minster Shire Haji Farah and Yusuf Mohamed Dhedo, Governor of Bari region standing outside the Headquarters of the District Commissioner in Qandala on Dec. 7, 2016. (Photo: Fadumo Yasin Jama / VOA)

Forces in Somalia's Puntland region have retaken Qandala, the only town in the country that was controlled by fighters allied with Islamic State.

Fadumo Yasin Jama, a reporter for VOA's Somali Service, says Puntland troops recaptured the Red Sea coastal town just after 10 a.m. local time Wednesday.

Jama said pro-IS fighters fled Qandala as the attackers entered by land and sea. “We were near the shore of Qandala when the troops entered," she said. "Puntland forces have been firing guns when they landed on the beach and entered the town but they were not receiving any response.”

The Puntland forces included clan militias, police and regional government soldiers. They reached Qandala after an 11-day trek over rough terrain with narrow roads.

Jama said the troops who arrived by sea seized the old fish factory and the historic headquarters of the district commissioner, built by Italian colonists.

“The troops are entering the homes and other buildings right now, one by one,” she said.

Puntland officials said their forces had two major clashes with the militants on Saturday and Monday. Regional Planning Minister Shire Haji Farah, who led the offensive, told VOA that his forces killed 30 pro-Islamic State fighters and wounded 35 others.

Farah said they seized three vehicles from the militants, including a truck carrying laptops, medicine and items that could be used for explosives.

He said their task now is to help people resettle the town. “We appeal to the people of Qandala who fled to return to the town, to come; we want to tell them that the town is peaceful, the will help them resettle,” Farah said.

Farah said the militants fled to Gurur in the mountainous areas south of Qandala. He said the troops will pursue the militants.

A security source told VOA that 21 militants, among them a senior commander of the pro-IS fighters, Mahad Maoallim, were spotted in Gurur village this morning. The source said the men asked for water and food and then left the village.

The villagers told the security forces that one of the men was wounded. There is no word on the whereabouts of the group’s leader Abdulkadir Mumin.

Residents of Qandala after the militants captured it on October 26. Jama said she did not see any civilians Wednesday, saying “the town was empty”.

“We asked the first troops who entered the town if they saw any human being, they said they have not,” she said.

"The doors of the shops were open. I could see items being sold inside left untouched. Some of the homes were also left open, the items and furniture scattered as if their owners fled the town in a hurry,” she said.

Islamic State has tried to win support in Somalia since 2014 but has lured only a small number of Islamist militants away from the country's dominant jihadist group, al-Shabab.