By Jim Kouri
Somali and African Union security forces drove members of a powerful Islamic terrorist group out of the town of Jowhar on Sunday, according to a report from a counterterrorism expert in Israel.
The government and AU troops surprisingly encountered little or no resistance from the members of Al Shabaab who retreated from Jowar, said the Israeli source who monitors Islamist groups in North Africa.
Until Sunday, Jowhar had been the largest town under the control of Al Shabaab Islamists, the source stated.
Although the al-Qaeda affiliated group has retreated most urban areas since the African Union first began assisting the Somali forces two years ago, Al Shabaab still controls many rural areas of the country.
Jowhar, which is 55 miles north of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, has access to Somalia’s biggest road linking the southern and central regions of the country. The Somali government claims this latest Islamist retreat is a major victory for the struggling Somali government.
Somalia’s leading Islamist terror group, Al Shabaab, which joined al-Qaeda this year, has deserted all of the main towns they once controlled in southern and central parts of the country but they still remain a potent threat to the UN-backed transitional government.
Al Shabaab means “The Youth” in Arabic. It emerged as the radical military wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006, when they fought the Ethiopian forces who had entered Somalia to back the weak interim government.
There are numerous reports of foreign jihadists going to Somalia to help Al Shabaab, including a number of American-born jihadists.
It continues to impose Shariah law in areas under its control, including lynching homosexuals, stoning to death female adulterers, and amputating the hands of thieves.
Ahmed Abdi Godane is the head of the group. Known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, he comes from the northern breakaway region of Somaliland.
Godane rarely leaves his safe house, expecially since his predecessor, Moalim Aden Hashi Ayro, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2008.
Al Shabaab joined al-Qaeda in February 2012. In a joint video, Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri.