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MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Somalia-based al-Shabaab extremist group has denied contact with the Somali government after the country’s deputy defense minister claimed the extremists had asked for talks for the first time.
An al-Shabaab official from the group’s media unit, speaking on condition of anonymity, told a pro-al-Shabaab website in comments published on Sunday that “there was no talk between us.”
Deputy Defense Minister Abdifatah Kassim told reporters in Mogadishu on Saturday that “Al-Shabaab requested talks with the Somali government, but there are two groups within Al-Shabaab.” He said the Somali members of al-Shabaab “have the opportunity to start negotiations, but the foreigners who invaded our country have no right to negotiate.” The only option is to go back to where they came from.”
Qasim added that “for the Somalis, we are ready to accept them, because they are willing to surrender to the Somali government. They must follow the instructions of the government, reintegrate with their society or face the Somali National Army on the front lines.”
It was the first time Somalia’s federal government claimed the extremist group had requested talks.
The comments came amid a military offensive launched last year by the government and described as “total war”. Al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-affiliate that has carried out high-profile bombings in Somalia’s capital and controlled parts of the country’s central and southern regions for more than a decade, complicating efforts to rebuild the once-failed state after decades of conflict. .
Al-Shabaab numbers several thousand fighters, including an unknown number of foreigners, both from regional countries such as neighboring Kenya and beyond. Extremists have carried out several high-profile attacks over the years in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and a military base used by the United States.
Al-Shabaab has long sought the imposition of strict Islamic law in Somalia and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Horn of Africa nation. The United States has a military presence in Somalia to combat the extremists, along with Turkey and a multinational African Union force.
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