KISMAYO, Somalia (AP) – Islamic radicals repulsed an attack by pro-government forces to recapture a vital seaport and on Saturday took control of a sympathetic coastal town, in further signs of the central administration’s weakening grasp.

A militia loyal to the defense minister tried to retake Kismayo, three weeks after losing Somalia’s third-largest town to Islamic fighters who have seized the capital and most of the south.

“We will continue to launch attacks until we recapture the city,” Col. Abas Gurei, a commander for the defense minister, Col. Barre “Hirale” Aden Shire, told The Associated Press by telephone.

The fighting on the town’s outskirts lasted for two hours as rival forces used heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, witnesses said. Three civilians and two fighters, one from each side, were injured, said Abdi Yusuf, an official from Kismayo’s local hospital.

The Islamic forces were pursuing Shire’s retreating fighters toward the town of Barhani, some 30 miles west of Kismayo, Islamic Courts official Abdullahi Warsame said.

Some locals have been arrested for helping plan the attack, including Shire’s wife, said Abdi Ahmed, head of security for the Islamic group in the region. Shire fled Kismayo shortly before its fall Sept. 23.

Armed Islamic militia were patrolling the streets and tensions remained high.

“We are prepared for further attacks and we have put our forces on alert,” Ahmed told reporters. “We will defend Kismayo.”

The Islamic group continued to expand Saturday, with the symbolic takeover of Brava, a coastal town 125 miles southwest of the capital, and one of the small pockets in the south still outside their control. The town’s leaders are sympathetic to the Islamic group, but pledged to hand over their weapons.

The Islamic courts militia has swept through southern Somalia since seizing the capital, Mogadishu, in June. Its strict and often severe interpretation of Islam has raised the specter of Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, and contrasts with the moderate Islam that has dominated Somali culture for centuries. The militia has introduced public executions and floggings.

Earlier Friday, Shire’s militia and those of the Islamic group clashed briefly in the town of Bu’aale, some 220 miles south of Baidoa, the only town controlled by Somalia’s weak government. Shire had been regrouping his forces near Bu’aale.

The Islamic militia’s capture of Kismayo provoked large demonstrations, mainly by women and children. Islamic fighters shot dead one boy when they tried to disperse the protesters. They also closed down a local radio station, accusing the broadcasters of anti-Islamic propaganda.

Kismayo, 260 miles southwest of Mogadishu, had been controlled by a loose alliance of warlords led by Shire.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

The interim government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help in hopes of restoring order. But the government never asserted much authority and the Islamic group has stepped into the power vacuum.

The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war against the U.S.


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