Somali forces retake Islamist militant stronghold

Joint mission with African Union to drive al-Shabab from Barawe began in March

African Union and Somali troops took control of the al-Shabaab militant stronghold of Barawe along the southern Somali coast, after the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fled without resistance, a Somali regional official said.

"We have completely taken Barawe town from al-Shabaab. There are now no al -ab in the town, they escaped when they saw our forces approaching hours ago," Abdikadir Mohamed Sidii, the governor for Lower Shabelle region where Barawe town is located told Reuters from inside the port town.

The African Union and the Somali military launched a joint offensive in March to drive militants out of towns and areas they control, and stepped up their campaign in August after a surge in gun and bomb attacks in Mogadishu.

Several al-Shabaab members across Somalia have been arrested and smaller towns retaken, but the rebels still hold swathes of territory. On August 30th the AU forces drove the militants out of the small southern town of Bulamareer.

Barawe is the biggest al-Shabaab-held town that the offensive has targeted so far. It had been fully controlled by the Islamist militia with almost no government presence since 2006. Al-Shabaab banned many aspects of modern life in the town, and applied its strict literal interpretation of Islamic sharia law, ordering executions, floggings and amputations for crimes such as theft.

Al-Shabaab ruled most of the southern region of Somalia from 2006 until 2011, when African troops marched into the capital.

It was destabilised badly after it lost the southern port of Kismayo to AU and Somali government soldiers in September 2012. The group had controlled the port since 2007, and charged taxes to ships that sailed or docked from its shores, raising revenues to expand its military campaign.