At least 19 militants have been killed in daylong fighting in the western Somali region of Bakool.
The clashes Wednesday took place between al-Shabab militants and fighters loyal to former al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Robow.
Officials said an al-Shabab onslaught early in the morning forced Robow's loyalists to retreat from Abal village. But they later returned to beat back their attackers in a midday counter offensive.
'A lot of people are dead'
Mohamed Hassan Fiqi, the acting president of Southwestern region, said, “They have repulsed al-Shabab quite well; in the morning it appeared they were going to be overwhelmed but they counter attacked and defended their base.”
Officials said 13 al-Shabab fighters and six Robow loyalists were killed in the clashes. “A lot of people are dead,” Fiqi told VOA Somali.
Security sources told VOA Somali that al-Shabab spent months trying oust Robow. The former leader defected from the terrorist group in 2013. Since then the Islamist militia has been giving Robow ultimatums to leave the area and surrender.
Robow has also reportedly rejected offers from regional officials to leave the area and surrender to the Somali government.
$5 million bounty withdrawn
The U.S. and Somali government had offered a $5 million bounty for Robow since 2012. That reward was withdrawn in June after the U.S. removed him from the list of terrorists after consultations with the Somali government.
Former Somali defense minister Abdihakim Mohamud Haji Fiqi, who welcomed Robow's removal from the wanted list, said the Somali government must speed up talks with him.
“The government should take advantage of this split within al-Shabab. It means a weakened strength,” he said.
Haji Fiqi said it appears Robow left al-Shabab after a disagreement with former leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2014.