Nairobi - Al-Shabaab supporters took control of a populous town in central Somalia on Sunday after African Union forces left the area - the third town the Islamist insurgents have seized since Friday, militants and local officials said.
The group, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islamic law, has remained a potent threat in the Horn of Africa country after it was forced from the capital Mogadishu in 2011.
Also Read: Suicide car bomb kills several AU soldiers
The African Union peacekeeping force, AMISOM, withdraw from Buqda on Saturday night, less than a month after taking control of the town, an economic centre of the Hiran region, from al Shabaab.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military spokesperson, said: ""We have taken Buqda town peacefully. The town is now under our control."
Residents said they had been treated brutally by both sides, but some said they welcomed the return of al-Shabaab.
"The problem is that the government cannot keep control of the town and it does not want al-Shabaab to rule it," said local elder Nur Ibrahim.
Also Read: 'At least 50 dead' in Shabaab attack on AU base
"Government troops rape, rob and kill us. Al-Shabaab also punishes anyone who sells items to the government.
Over the last two days, al-Shabaab has taken two small towns in the lower Shabelle region of Somalia, both on routes to sea ports: El Saliindi, 65km south of Mogadishu en route to Marka port and Kuntuwarey, on the road between the capital and Barawe port.