Al Shabaab militants seize two towns in southern Somalia

Islamist militants al Shabaab seized control of two towns over two days in southern Somalia and attacked two African Union (AU) convoys in the same region, a spokesman for the group and a local official said on Saturday.

Both captured towns were on routes toward Indian Ocean ports south of the capital Mogadishu and came after al Shabaab fighters attacked an AU base in the same area on Sept. 1.

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Last year, African Union peacekeepers known as AMISOM drove al Shabaab back in the south and seized the port of Barawe in October, a coastal town used by the Islamist militants to bring in arms and fighters from abroad for years.

Al Shabaab lost control of the main southern port of Kismayu and the port of Marka in 2012, so the loss of Barawe was a setback, leaving the group with no access to the sea in the south of Somalia.

On Saturday, al Shabaab said it had seized two small towns in the Lower Shabelle region: El Saliindi, 65 km (40 miles) south of Mogadishu en route to Marka, and Kuntuwarey, on the road between the capital and Barawe.

The al Qaeda-affiliated group, which is seeking to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose its harsh version of Islamic law, attacks the AU-led peacekeeping force and Somali officials regularly.