MOGADISHU, Somalia-- Thousands of Somalis on Thursday fled an insurgent-held town for the capital, fearing a military attack by African Union troops allied with the weak U.N.-backed Somali government.
Hundreds of cars and trucks packed with mattresses and other household items created traffic jams in the capital of Mogadishu a day after Somali and African Union troops extended their reach and launched an offensive on Elasha Biyaha. The rebel-held settlement, southwest of Mogadishu, is inhabited by Somalis who fled Mogadishu violence in 2007.
"The situation is very scary because (AU) troops are going to attack the area," said Mohamed Abdullahi, standing next to a truck packed with his possessions. "We must not wait until the battle gets started, everyone is leaving."
This week's advance by Somali troops supported by the AU force follows a declaration by the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab that they had formally joined al-Qaida.
The latest influx of refugees into Mogadishu will put further strain on the Somali government, which this month evicted thousands of Somalis from government-owned buildings in the capital. Many had lived there for years, and will be competing with the new arrivals for space.
"The problem is you don't know where to stay and live. We don't have a house in Mogadishu," said Salado Abdi, a mother of six who was seeking shelter for her young children. "We ask the government to consider our situation."
Some of the families traveling into Mogadishu expressed worry about relatives they were forced to leave behind because they could not pay to rehouse them. Rent in Mogadishu shot up after Al-Shabab militants left their bases in Mogadishu in August and thousands of displaced people returned to the capital.
"You can't bring everyone here because you cannot get homes for them," said Ibrahim Muse, a 47-year-old father who was sharing a two-room corrugated iron shack with his seven children.
"This home is not even enough for my family."
Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab militia is fighting a war on three fronts. Kenyan and Ethiopian troops allied to the Somali government have both crossed their respective borders and Somali troops fighting alongside African Union soldiers have retaken control of the capital.