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25 Islamist militants killed in Somalia, government-backed group says

From Mohamed Amiin Adow for CNN
  • Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda
  • Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama supports Somalia's transitional government
  • Fighting has forced many in small border town to flee
  • Somalia

(CNN) -- Somali government forces and allied fighters say they have killed at least 25 Al-Shabaab militants after heavy fighting along the border with Kenya, according to a senior official with a government-supported militant group.

"We have defeated Al-Shabaab and now we are in full control of Balad Hawa," a town bordering Kenya, said Sheikh Hassan Abdi Qoryoley, a top commander with Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama.

Qoryoley said the fighting started after Al-Shabaab attacked positions of his militia in the southwest Somali town.

Al-Shabaab, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, controls much of southern Somalia and portions of the capital, Mogadishu. Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, which follows the Sufi form of Islam, turned against Al-Shabaab after its fighters destroyed the tombs of several revered leaders of the Sufi Muslim group in 2008.

Meanwhile, residents of the town began to flee the area, fearing that fighting could erupt again at any time.

"People are really scared and started crossing into Mandera," a neighboring Kenyan town, Mohamed Elmi, an elder in Balad Hawa, told CNN.

The heavy shelling overnight continued for more than eight hours, spreading anxiety through the town. "The ground was absolutely moving ... it was hellish, really hellish," said Elmi, adding his family of 10 crossed into Kenya while he stayed behind to guard his home.