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HOBYO, Somalia, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Local Somali leaders increasingly align with former pirate foes to fight a much graver common enemy -- the militant al-Shabaab Islamic movement, officials say.
But some pirates are also believed to side with the Shabaab, one of Africa's most fearsome radical Islamic groups, elders said.
"We just don't have the forces" to fight the Shabaab, Ismail Haji Noor, a government official in the ancient harbor city of Hobyo, in north-central Somalia's Mudug region, told The New York Times.
"Squished between the (pirates and the Shabaab), we have to become friends with the pirates," Noor said.
The movement, which has a full name of Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahedin, or the Movement of Warrior Youth, says it wages a holy war against "enemies of Islam" and declared its alliance with al-Qaida Feb. 1.
It is said to control most of Somalia's southern and central parts, including "a large swath" of the capital, Mogadishu.
Once the Shabaab take over an area, they impose a harsh, distorted form of Shariah, the sacred law of Islam, banning music, soccer, even bras. Offenders can get their hands chopped off or their heads bashed in with rocks, the Times said.
But while pirate gangs, which hijacked more than 30 ships off the Somali coast this year, now collaborate with Noor and other local officials to protect coastal villages from the Shabaab, other pirates recently split their ransoms with the Shabaab and the Hizbul Islam Islamic insurgent group that plans to merge with the Shabaab, elders told the Times.
This could be the beginning of "the West's worst Somali nightmare" -- piracy and Islamic radicalism combining forces, the Times said.
The Shabaab last month infiltrated a hotel in Mogadishu's government zone and gunned down more than 30 people, including four lawmakers.