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Al-Shabaab takes control of strategic town in southern Somalia

MOGADISHU, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Islamist militants Al-Shabaab seized the control of a strategic town in the southern Somali region of lower Shabelle on Sunday night after government forces vacated the town, witnesses and residents said on Monday.

According to residents in Janaale town, the militants had taken over the control of the town without firing a single shot after Somali government forces vacated the town.

The residents said the Somali forces abandoned the town on Sunday afternoon, in fear of possible Al-Shabaab attacks, but shortly after their retreat, heavily armed Al-Shabaab fighters came in and begun erecting their black flag in the town.

Sirado Sheikh, a resident at the town, said she saw masked Al- Shabaab fighters in the town as they were heading to the police station under the control of Somali forces' earlier.

Another resident, Aw Nuure said there was a panic in the town last night as residents were shocked by the sudden retreat of the Somali army but "luckily there was not single a shot".

The Janaale is a strategically rich town in the Lower Shabelle region, which has a vast area of productive farmland.

Only two days ago, the militants attacked four other settlements in the area, triggering long hours of gun battle which claimed lives of many people mainly of the warring sides.

The militants have recently begun a campaign to beef up their attacks against AU and Somali forces in the Lower Shabelle region, which has seen a surge of attacks.

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