Somalia's al-Shabab has declared war on Isis fighters in the country, the first public declaration by the al-Qaeda-linked group, intensifying the rivalry between the two militant groups.
Al-Shabab spokesman, Sheikh Mohamud Ali Rage, also known as Ali Dheere, said they instructed their fighters to crush Isis elements within Somalia.
Rage termed Isis as a 'cancer' and said the Middle-East-based group is determined to create division within al-Shabab and its activities have no basis in Islam. The group's announcement comes days after Isis claimed to have killed 14 al-Shabab fighters in a clash in northeastern Somalia.
"The al-Shabab senior brass have instructed its mujahideen to confront the deadly disease (a reference to Isis) that is disrupting the Jihad in Somalia in which so many of our martyrs sacrificed their blood," the spokesman said. "We have to crush that cancer, which has no basis in Islam, with the Koran and the sword."
He further said they had arrested a number of Isis members who were planning to assassinate al-Shabab officials.
The Isis-affiliated fighters, numbering a few hundreds, were former al-Shabab fighters who abandoned the group in 2015 and pledged allegiance to Isis leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. They are based in the northern part of the country but there are reports that the group is expanding its reach across Somalia and sending operatives into key towns. Isis is now rivaling al-Shabab by demanding protection payments from Somali businesspeople, a business that used to be the preserve of al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab has been hunting down fighters loyal to Isis since 2015 by killing and imprisoning them but has never made a public declaration of its intent to punish Isis. Today's announcement is aimed at preventing any attempt by Isis to weaken al-Shabab's influence and expand their tax collection operations.