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Reports: Islamists spark deadly fighting in central Somalia town

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Somalia in crisis
  • Al-Shabaab rebels' attack sparked an intense firefight Saturday
  • Islamist rebel group reportedly fought members of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a
  • Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a is a moderate Muslim group
  • Witnesses told a journalist about 30 people died in the fighting.
  • Somalia
  • War and Conflict
  • Islam

(CNN) -- Al-Shabaab rebels attacked a town in central Somalia early Saturday, sparking an intense firefight between rival Islamic groups, according to eyewitnesses and local journalists.

Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Dere said the Islamist rebel group took control of Dhusomareb after fighting members of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, a moderate Muslim group, according to Shabelle Media. However, the rival group claimed it pushed out the al-Shabaab rebels by Saturday evening.

While neither side officially claimed casualties, witnesses told a journalist about 30 people died in the fighting.

Al-Shabaab is made up of former allies of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who once led the Islamic Courts Union -- the Islamist movement that briefly held power in Mogadishu in 2006.

But while Ahmed and other former members of the ICU accepted a U.N.-brokered peace agreement with the government they once fought, Al-Shabaab -- which the United States says has links to al Qaeda -- has rejected the peace agreement and has waged a bloody campaign against Somalia's transitional government.

The transnational Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a has maintained a strong presence in southern and central Somalia, where it has gathered powerful but small Sufi sects to counter extremist Islamist groups, especially al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab has been trying to expand its influence farther north in Somalia, including Dhusomareb, the provincial capital of Galgaduud.

A U.S. missile strike on Dhusomareb in May 2008 targeted and killed several senior members of al-Shabaab.

Journalist Mohamed Amiin Adow contributed to this report.