The African Union has sharply condemned Monday's reported takeover of the Somali parliament building in Baidoa and surrounding areas by Al-Shabaab Islamic insurgents. The Islamic group described by Washington as a terrorist organization promised to institute Sharia law shortly after taking over the town.
Al-Shabaab took control of most of Baidoa with reportedly little resistance from local militia groups and government troops who controlled the city after the departure of the Ethiopian troops a few hours earlier. The takeover of Baidoa came as Somali parliamentarians, meeting in neighboring Djibouti overwhelmingly agreed to expand parliament from 275 to 550 members. The new parliament is expected to begin meeting today ahead of the possible extension of the deadline for electing a new president.
Mohammed Ali Ahmed, a former education minister, told VOA that residents of Baidoa welcomed the Al-Shabaab takeover.
"The residents believed that they (Al-Shabaab) will come after the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops. They were expecting that they will come because there were contacts between the civil societies and especially the chiefs and elders and intellectuals as well as religious leaders. They all said if you (Al-Shabaab) come to Baidoa but now there are no Ethiopian troops so we are Islamists and we will welcome you if you do not conflict with us," Ali Ahmed noted.
He said the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) failed to adequately provide security in Baidoa before the seat of parliament was prior to moving the seat of parliament there.
"Before the TFG came to Baidoa there was a quarrel between members of the TFG and because the government was weak so they were not able to settle security matters, and that really undermined the confidence of most residents of Baidoa because they were expecting changes. But when the Ethiopian troops left, there were few members of parliament and soldiers left who were trying to fend off Al-Shabaab. So the community asked the members of parliament to go away and not fight with Al-Shabaab because it would cause a distraction in the lives of people in the town," he said.
Ali Ahmed said the Islamic group promised to soon institute sharia law in Baidoa.
"They said they would implement sharia law and urged everybody to remain calm. They also said they would not harm the people who were supporting the Ethiopian troops or other factions adding that everybody would be free to do what they want, except that they would implement the Sharia law or obey the Sharia law," Ali Ahmed pointed out.
He said residents of Baidoa have hailed the Islamic takeover of Baidoa and the subsequent promise to institute the Islamic sharia law.
"The people are welcoming it because they are fed up with the troops of Ethiopia and the TFG supporters, who were not able to maintain or enforce law and order in the town. So, they think that if Al-Shabaab comes to Baidoa they will have good security and there would be peace. So they expected that and they will thank the Al-Shabaab people," he said.