Islamists take Somali city

MOGADISHU, Somalia – An increasingly powerful Islamic militia rolled through its newly captured territory and installed a religious court in one town Wednesday as the remnants of a U.S.-backed alliance of warlords desperately tried to regroup.

The Islamic Courts Union, which has alleged links to al-Qaida, controls the Somali capital and surrounding areas after defeating the secular warlord alliance in weeks of battles that killed at least 330 people – many of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

Militiamen toting heavy machine guns installed an Islamic court in Balad, about 20 miles from the capital. Chanting residents said that an Islamic state would help pacify a nation wracked by anarchy since 1991.

“Allah is our god, Muhammad is our prophet and Islam is our religion, so we are in favor of acting on the holy Quran,” said local cleric Mohamud Anshur.

Shop owner Mostaf Hassan Ali said he would give the militia a chance.

“The secular militia did not provide reliable security to this town. Now, we can rest assured the Islamists can improve the situation,” he said.

About 20 miles away in Jowhar, their last remaining stronghold, secular warlords took up defensive positions two days after being pushed out of the capital in a humiliating defeat that came despite U.S. support for their alliance, which has said it wants to root out terrorists.

Alliance leader Mohamed Dheere, who controls Jowhar, was believed to be in Ethiopia seeking reinforcements. Police in neighboring Kenya deported another warlord Wednesday after he was discovered at a Nairobi luxury hotel.

If its militiamen captures Jowhar and consolidate power in Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union will effectively control all of the major towns in southern Somalia, further isolating the U.N.-backed transitional government in Baidoa, 155 miles from the capital.

Somalia has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, dividing this nation of 8 million into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms.

U.S. officials have confirmed cooperating with the secular warlords.

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