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Somali troops take control of al-Shabab stronghold Kismayo

Stuart Price / AP

The Somali National Army and the government-allied Ras Kamboni Brigade militia wave the Somali national flag from the former control tower of the airport in Kismayo, southern Somalia, Oct. 2, 2012.

Loud explosions shook the Somali port city of Kismayo Tuesday as Somali government troops and African Union forces took control of the last major stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked militia group al-Shabab, the BBC reported.

According to the report, the army claimed it had captured all strategic points of the city.

"We have full control of the city. The residents of the city have welcomed us warmly," commander of the Somali government army in the Juba region, Ismael Sahardid, told the BBC.

Al Jazeera reported that three explosions occurred Tuesday, two of which the African Union troops said they had set off. The third blast, which went off at a Kismayo administrative building, was claimed by al-Shabab, according to Al Jazeera.

A spokesman for al-Shabab's military operations, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, said the bomb was planted inside a district administration office building now housing Somali troops, and he warned of more attacks.

"This is only an introduction to the forthcoming explosions," he told Reuters. The militants had succeeded in "killing many," Musab said.

The government said the explosion caused no casualties.

Kenyan troops fighting under the AU flag entered Kismayo for the first time on Tuesday after launching an offensive against the port on Friday, forcing the rebels to flee. According to the BBC, al-Shabab had used Kismayo as its main base for more than a year.

Al-Shabab's strength is hard to gauge. Mohamud Farah, a spokesman for Somalia's government forces, said between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters were hiding in southern regions.

Hundreds of foreign fighters had joined the insurgency at its peak from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya andTanzania as well as the United States and Britain, Somalia's last government said.

"Foreign fighters (also) started leaving when they saw their space was shrinking," a Nairobi-based security adviser said, referring to the offensive by African Union and Somali government troops that has steadily won back rebel-held ground over the past 14 months.

After the surrender of Kismayo, defection rates among foot soldiers were also expected to pick up, with the rebel group seen as a losing proposition.

What will be left behind, analysts say, is a hardline core.

Whether al-Shabab is able to wage a prolonged campaign of guerrilla attacks on Kismayo will largely hinge on the Mogadishu-based government's success in establishing a regional administration that satisfies competing clan interests in the south.

"If you have marginalized clans, al-Shabab will find allies in them. If all clans are on board, it will be hard for al-Shabab to infiltrate Kismayo," the security adviser said. 

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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