Lawlessness in Somali port after Islamist retreat

Lawlessness is reigning in the Somali port city of Kismayo, where gunmen have killed at least three people since the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab abandoned their last bastion there, residents said on Sunday.

After Kenyan and Somali troops' advances towards the strategic port forced the Islamists to abandon it Saturday, the Kenyan army said helicopter gunships were attacking Al-Shabab bases outside the city to clear the way for a final ground assault to occupy the city.

However, the power vacuum created by what the Islamists called their "tactical retreat" left Kismayo exposed to chaos Sunday as residents waited for the Kenyan and Somali forces to arrive.

Since the retreat of the Islamists, who ruled Kismayo with an iron fist, unidentified gunmen have killed at least three civilians, including a traditional leader, according to residents interviewed by phone from Mogadishu.

"Three civilians were killed, including a traditional elder, by unidentified gunmen, and the town has been very tense since yesterday," said one resident, Abdulahi Adan, adding that Kismayo had been rocked by heavy explosions overnight.

Another resident, Mohamed Issaq, said on Saturday that at least four civilians had been killed, including two clan leaders.

"There is power vacuum and armed clan militia have started regrouping," said Dahir Moalim, another resident. "There were gunshots last night and most of the people did not sleep because of the tensions."

Residents said there was still no sign of African Union troops in the southern city, where Al-Shabab reportedly busted open the gates of the main prison and the police station before retreating.

"People are in the streets eagerly waiting to witness the changes but so far the Kenyan troops and the Somali soldiers are in the suburbs of the town," said Shueyb Mohamed.

The Kenyan army said it was doing everything possible to ensure its forces took control of the city "safely" and "in good time."

"We have received reports of the lawlessness within parts of the city … we want to assure the civilians of Kismayo that their calls for order have been heard," Kenya Defence Forces spokesman Cyrus Oguna told AFP.

Oguna said that late Saturday other Al-Shabab bases outside Kismayo were destroyed by helicopter gunships and that Al-Shabab suffered "heavy casualties."

"In Bardhere, there was a congregation of new Al-Shabab recruits … we struck them as they were receiving final instruction from their commanders," he said.

Oguna says there were other air strikes in Berhane, a town near Kismayo, "to clear the path for a ground assault."

The Somali military's second in command, General Abdikarin Youssouf Dhegobadan, said troops were working on removing security threats before moving into the city.

"Our forces will peacefully walk into the city very soon, but before that there are new plans underlined to tackle the booby traps that are likely planted by the Al-Qaeda militants," he said.

"The city is already secure but to safeguard the protection of the civilians there should be a sober way of entering the town."

The fall of Kismayo is the latest in a string of major losses of territory over the past year for Al-Shabab, who have since switched to guerrilla tactics after they lost their strongholds.

Kismayo had been a key source of revenue for the insurgents in the form of charcoal exports, as well as their main entry point for weapons.

The Islamists have been battling Somalia's fragile Western-backed government since 2007.

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