The president of Somalia's Puntland State government has said that the stable region is "under attack" by international terror groups and is cracking down on anti-peace elements, Radio Garowe reports.
Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, Puntland's elected president, told the VOA Somali Service during a Wednesday interview that a group loyal to Al Shabaab militants in southern Somalia is responsible for assassinations of Puntland officials.
"The group hiding in Galgala hills received training in southern Somalia and they take orders from foreign terrorists who are the enemy of peace and government," President Farole said, while referring to a hilly region west of Bossaso, Puntland's commercial heartland.
The Galgala militants are led by a Puntland-born self-styled sheikh named Mohamed Said Atom, who is on the U.S. wanted list of suspects who hinder peace in Somalia.
|Abdirahman Farole, Puntland's president|
"The local element in Galgala hills is led by the man named Atom, who has been hiding out in the mountains for a few years. But those who kill people in Bossaso are especially trained to spread the terror they commit in the south to every part of Somalia," Puntland's president said.
President Farole said government security forces have apprehended a number of terror suspects in recent months, all of whom originate in southern Somalia and received instructions at Al Shabaab terror training camps in southern Somalia.
Puntland government forces have arrested and sent back to their homes in southern Somalia more than 500 people this week.
President Farole defended the security crackdown, saying: "The people we arrested and sent back are not displaced persons. They are those young men seeking to be smuggled [to Yemen via Gulf of Aden] whom we have always sent back for their own safety. We did not send back elders, women, children, and the poor."
He explained that "most towns in southern Somalia with the exception of Mogadishu are peaceful today and these people should return to their homes unless they have other intentions."
Mr. Farole said that the other group of people sent back to southern Somalia is a major security threat to Puntland and the region as a whole: "The second group intends to plant enmity in a big city [Bossaso] that is crowded and commercially vibrant and where Somalis from everywhere have been welcomed and is home to every Somali clan. Like they did in Mogadishu, they want to create instability from within the city [of Bossaso]," President Farole concluded.
Puntland's leader said the reason terror groups want to target Bossaso is "same reason as Mogadishu. It is a city with business and a big population and is therefore easy to hide [terrorists]."
He promised that Puntland security forces "would not harm or hold" anyone who is innocent of the authorities' suspicions.
'We have surrounded Galgala hideout'
President Farole was asked a question regarding rumors that the Al Shabaab flag has been raised in parts of Puntland.
"That is propaganda and they [Galgala militants] are receiving orders from southern Somalia [ruled by Al Shabaab] and the objective is to fundraise and to say, 'Look we have raised the flag at the corner of a remote mountain. Send us money.' But they have nothing there," the Puntland leader added.
He stated that Puntland government troops have "surrounded Galgala hideout" and that the standoff "will be finalized in the coming days."
But President Farole admitted that the "bigger concern [for authorities] is the terrorists who hide among the displaced people. Those are the ones responsible for the bombings."
Puntland, located at the northeastern tip of Somalia with shores along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, has been a stable region since the outbreak of the Somali civil war in 1991.
In recent months, Puntland's government has blamed a string of assassinations and bombings on terror cells connected to Al Shabaab and other terror groups fighting to topple the Western-backed TFG in Mogadishu.
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