Islamist militants on Saturday seized a southern Somali town after clashes with government troops that claimed at least three lives, elders said.
Their fighters attacked Jilib township, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of the capital, touching off deadly clashes with government forces and allied militia.
« Clan militias in the town exchanged fire with the Islamists and three militiamen were killed, » said Mohamed Hassan Warsame, an elder.
« Local authorities emptied the town this morning after heavily-armed Islamist fighters took control of it. »
Abdullahi Mohamed, a local government official said they fled the town, leaving it in the hands of the Islamists.
« We escaped the town early this morning after heavily-armed Islamist militias attacked us. We have been told three militias were killed inside the town. »
The Islamists have waged near-daily attacks in Mogadishu against Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces, which ousted their movement early last year.
A seemingly endless cycle of violence has plagued the Horn of African nation since the toppling of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991