Islamist militants have converged along the edge of a Somali pirate town, preparing for a possible face off with a group that rejects al Qaeda, a local journalist and witnesses told CNN Monday.
While one witness said the government-aligned Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamma militia stopped Al-Shabaab fighters, CNN could not immediately confirm that report from the remote pirate town of Haradhere.
However, several witnesses and a spokesman for Ahlu Sunna insisted Al-Shabaab was still outside town, saying village elders told the Islamist militants to stay out.
The Ahlu Sunna spokesman told the journalist that his group sent scouts to Haradhere, and that the militia is planning to attack Al-Shabaab.
Clashes between Alhu Sunna and Al-Shabaab, which has ties to al Qaeda, have flared up in recent months. Al-Shabaab, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is waging a war against the Somali government in an effort to implement a strict form of Islamic law, called sharia.
As al-Shabaab has been working its way toward Harardhere, pirates in the town fled - some by boat, others to different parts of the country, witnesses and the local journalist reported.
"All pirates deserted the town and they also took the hijacked ships they had deep into the waters," said Mohamed, a witness who was only identified by his first name for security reasons.
But Monday, al-Shabaab stopped short of the pirate port after Ahlu Sunna took its defense positions, Mohamed said.
Pirates recently captured a boat loaded with weapons from Yemen that were intended for al-Shabaab and had stopped paying bribes to the Islamists, said a journalist in Harardhere, whose identity is not being disclosed for security reasons.
Ahlu Sunna is a large, moderate, Sufi Islam religious denomination that has been fighting extremists like al-Shabaab for about a year.Â
Somalia's government recently announced a new alliance and peace deal with Ahlu Sunna.Â "The agreement with Ahlu Sunna is a historic success for the Somali people and it is a further positive step for the full return of Somalia's nationhood," President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said last month.
In Mogadishu over the weekend, al-Shabaab battled government troops in a clash that killed at least 10 people, ambulance crews and the local journalist reported Sunday.Â
Al-Shabaab is trying to topple Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government.Â
The fighting has escalated a long-running humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had an effective central government since 1991.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
U.N. reports have found that Yemen is a source for arms shipments into Somalia despite a longstanding U.N. embargo on weapons. The Yemeni government, which is battling its own al Qaeda uprising, has attempted to crack down on arms dealing within its territory but also faces an influx of Somali refugees.
- Journalist Mohamed Amiin Adow and CNN's Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.