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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Sunday, 2 May 2010 16:37 UK

Somali Islamist insurgents seize pirate haven

Somali with gun and ship in background
Hizbul Islam say they want to end piracy and establish Sharia law

Somali insurgents have taken control of one of the main pirate havens in the centre of the country.

Residents said several hundred rebels of the group Hizbul Islam had taken over the coastal town of Haradhere and that the pirates had fled.

Hizbul Islam wants to establish Sharia law and order and put an end to the pirate trade in the town, the leader of the insurgents told the BBC.

Somalia has not had an effective government for nearly 20 years.

"Around 200 heavily armed militants... moved into the town early this morning and took up strategic positions, such as the police station and some former government premises," Haradhere resident Aden Jim'ale said.

Map

"We are in Haradhere now, we came here after we received a request from the local people to help them provide their security," Hizbul Islam chief of operations Mohamed Abdi Aros told the BBC.

Hundreds of pirates could be seen leaving Haradhere in luxury cars hours before the insurgents moved in, local resident Suleyman Gadid told the BBC.

'Lucrative foothold'

One report citing an unnamed pirate said that a Hizbul Islam delegation had visited the town several days ago and demanded a share of the piracy trade. There is no confirmation.

In recent years, pirates have seized dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

They have recently expanded the reach of their attacks to avoid patrols by several nations off the Somali coast.

Hizbul Islam and the Islamist group al-Shabab have a common agenda in fighting the UN-backed interim government and have previously shared control of the southern Somali port of Kismayo.

But the two groups fell out in 2009 and al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, ousted Hizbul Islam from the lucrative harbour-town.

Since losing Kismayo, the group has been keen to gain a foothold in Haradhere before al-Shabab moved in, says the BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu.



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