Al Shabaab says extends reach into Somalia's Puntland

Sat Feb 25, 2012 4:02pm GMT

* Al Shabaab says joins forces with Puntland Islamists

* Says wants to nullify oil exploration licenses

* Puntland is one of Somalia's more stable regions

By Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar

MOGADISHU, Feb 25 (Reuters) - An Islamist militia group in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region has merged with the al Shabaab rebel group, said the insurgents on Saturday, a union which threatens to destabilise the relatively secure area targeted by oil explorers.

Al Shabaab said it wanted to scrap the licenses of Western oil and gas firms drilling in Puntland. The al Qaeda-backed insurgents used social media site twitter to declare all oil and gas exploration and drilling licenses nullified.

While they do not hold the administrative control in the region needed to enforce their demand, the militants could try to target installations operated by Western oil companies.

The Puntland administration was not immediately available for comment.

The union comes as the insurgents are being weakened, relinquishing ground to African Union troops around the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and losing territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in parts of southern and central Somalia.   Continued...

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