The Somali National Army and local clan militias say they have killed at least 100 militants as retribution for last Saturday’s terrorist bombings that killed more than 100 people in Mogadishu.
Briefing the media Friday in Mogadishu, Defense Ministry spokesperson Abdullahi Ali Anod said the clashes occurred in the Garas Magan and El Hareeri villages of the Hiran region in central Somalia, about 320 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
“Government forces have targeted the militants at a place they were regrouping in preparation for an offensive against bases of our allied forces,” Anod said.
Major Ahmed Abdullahi Beeryare, commander of a battalion of the SNA’s U.S.-trained Danab unit, who is among the generals leading the campaign against al-Shabab, said that “the number of al-Shabab fatalities could be as high as 200.”
"We are still in the middle of putting together the numbers of those killed in different places," Beeryare said. "It was both preemptive and a revenge operation for the killing of our innocent people in the recent twin terrorist bombings in Mogadishu. We will not stop until we end them."
The government officials paraded confiscated weapons captured from the group and dozens of dead bodies in military camouflage, saying they were al-Shabab militants.
VOA and other local news organizations have not been able to independently verify the government claims and the exact number of militants killed.
Beeryare added that airstrikes carried out by drones were involved in the operation, but he did not elaborate about whether it was foreign air support.
The U.S. Africa Command regularly conducts such airstrikes against Somali militants at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia.
The most recent one was on October 23, in which militants were targeted as they attacked Somali National Army troops near Buulabarde, about 220 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
The current government military operation began several months ago, after Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who took office in May, declared that his top priority was ending the country's 15-year Islamist insurgency.
Calls for unity
In August, Mohamud’s government took the bold step of bringing in one of its former archenemies, former al-Shabab founder, deputy leader and spokesman Mukhtar Robow, as part of its strategy to end terrorism.
Robow was named religious affairs minister.
Speaking at the Friday prayers sermon in a Mogadishu mosque, Robow urged the Somali people to “unite against terrorism and assist their government in the current fight against al-Shabab.”
“We cannot describe a Muslim as a person killing another Muslim in the middle of worship and prayers inside a mosque, and that is what al-Shabab does,” Robow said. “They are Khawarij.”
The term Khawarij, which means renegades in English, comes from the Arabic word that means “those who left.” It refers to a group of Muslims who were initially followers of the Prophet Muhammad and later took a position that Muslims who commit grave sins effectively reject their religion, entering the ranks of apostates, and therefore deserve capital punishment.
“Do not fear the Khawarij; do not hide them amongst you and spy. With Allah’s willing, they will be eventually defeated, and Somalia will be a peaceful and prosperous nation,” Robow added.
In the past four months, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab armed groups have lost villages and strongholds in the central Somali regions of Hiran, Middle Shabelle and Galgudud. Government officials claim nearly 1,000 al-Shabaab militants have been killed.
Abdiaziz Ahmed contributed to this report from Mogadishu.