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Islamic State infiltrating Somalia, U.S. says

MOGADISHU, Somalia — The Islamic State group’s growing presence in Somalia could become a “significant threat” if it attracts fighters fleeing collapsing strongholds in Syria and Iraq, experts say, and already it seems to be influencing local al-Shabab extremists to adopt tactics like beheadings.

The U.S. military this month carried out its first drone strikes against Islamic State fighters in Somalia, raising questions about the strength of the group that emerged just two years ago. A second strike targeted the fighters on Sunday, with the U.S. saying “some terrorists” were killed.

The Islamic State group, often referred to by the acronym ISIS, burst into public view in Somalia late last year as dozens of armed men seized the port town of Qandala in the northern Punt-land region, calling it the seat of the “Islamic Caliphate in Somalia.” They beheaded a number of civilians, causing more than 20,000 residents to flee, and held the town for weeks until they were forced out by Somali troops backed by U.S. military advisers.

Since then, Islamic State fighters have stormed a hotel popular with government officials in Puntland’s commercial hub, Bossaso, and claimed their first suicide attack at a Bossaso security checkpoint.

This long-fractured Horn of Africa nation with its weak central government already struggles to combat al-Shabab, an ally of al-Qaida, which is blamed for last month’s truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu, that killed more than 350 in the country’s deadliest attack.

The Islamic State fighters in Puntland are now thought to number around 200, according to a U.N. report released this month by experts monitoring sanctions on Somalia. The experts traveled to the region and interviewed several imprisoned Islamic State extremists.

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