NAIROBI — Somalia’s weak, UN-backed government could face an increase in attacks from Islamist insurgents after the two largest groups dropped their running feud and merged, analysts and fighters said yesterday.
The announcement Sunday of a merger between Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam means the two won’t waste resources fighting one another and will instead concentrate on fighting the Mogadishu-based government and the African Union troops who protect it, said Sheik Mohamed Osman Arus, Hizbul Islam’s head of operations.
“The two groups have already shared ammunition, field clinics and fought together,’’ Arus said. “But having a united leadership will mean the end of the puppet government and the African dogs,’’ a term militants use for the 8,000 African Union troops in Mogadishu.
Since its establishment in 2007, Al Shabab has sought to defeat any Islamist rival. The group increased attacks on Hizbul Islam in recent months and overtook several towns its rival had once controlled, military momentum that apparently hastened the merger.
Al Shabab imposes a harsh and conservative reading of Islam that bans movies and television. Punishments include the chopping off of hands of thieves and death by stoning of adulterers.