The Somali town of Jowhar, the last stronghold of the US-backed warlords, braced for new clashes yesterday after three militia chiefs fled the township, residents said.
Gunmen loyal to warlord Mohamed Dheere, the ruler of Middle Shabelle region, fired into the air as they tested their weapons in the outskirts of Jowhar, about 90km north of Mogadishu, amid fears that Islamic fighters were approaching, an AFP correspondent said.
"We heard gunfire at about 5am, but we were told they were Dheere's men firing in the air," a resident said.
Late Tuesday, Mohamed Afrah Qanyare and Issa Botan Alin -- who were evicted from the capital last week -- and a little-known local warlord, Abdu Nure, Said left Jowhar in a convoy of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns and headed further north.
Residents said the warlords, who left without saying a word, fled to Qanyare's hometown of el Bur in the central Somali region of Galgudud.
The warlords, who were members of the US-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism, arrived in the this Somalia township after they were evicted from Mogadishu, by gunmen loyal to hardline Joint Islamic Courts.
The alliance was dealt a major blow when its powerful Mogadishu member Abdi Hassan Awale Qeydid defected to the Islamic courts, saying he wanted to end bloodshed in the bullet-riddled capital.
His abrupt exit leaves warlords Musa Sudi Yalahow, Bashir Raghe Shirar and Omar Muhamoud Finnish as the only faction chiefs still holed up in northern Mogadishu under the protection of their powerful Abgal subclan and still vowing to fight on.
Qeydid, a former Somali police commissioner during the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, who was toppled in 1991, was the feared warlord in charge of Afgoi belt, about 30km south of Mogadishu.
With their US-backed mission to rid Somalia the influence of hardline Islamists in disarray, it's unclear strategy will come next.
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