Hundreds of people in the Somali capital Mogadishu, attended a government-organised rally on Thursday to protest against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was part of the rally at a stadium under tight security, used the event to call on Somalis to help flush out members of the al-Shabab group he described as “bedbugs”.
“I’m calling to you, the people of Mogadishu, the Kharijites [renegades] are amongst you … so flush them out. They are in your houses, they are your neighbours, in cars that pass you by,” Mohamud said on Thursday, addressing the large crowd which was one of the largest public gatherings in recent years.
“I want us to commit today to flushing them out. They are like bedbugs under our clothes,” he added, as demonstrators waved flags and placards with anti-al-Shabab messages.
“We will never accept extremist killing or robbing our people and we will also never accept the killing of our innocent people. We will protect them from al-Shabab. Anyone who does that [kills innocent people] will face trial or justice,” Mohamud said.
“The people are tired of massacres, killings, and all kinds of misdeeds and they are now saying to al-Shabab: ‘Enough is enough’,” he said.
His government has also urged citizens to report on fighters living among them.
Hodan Ali, a senior adviser to the Somali president, told Al Jazeera that it “was about time the citizens rise up and claim their own security, backed by the government, and we are seeing across the country a swell against al-Shabab”.
Al-Shabab has been waging a bloody uprising against the internationally-backed central government since 2007, carrying out attacks in Somalia and neighbouring countries, which sent troops to help in the fight against the armed group.
The group killed 166 people at Garissa University in 2015, and 67 at a mall in Nairobi in 2013, but the frequency and severity of al-Shabab attacks in Kenya has reduced in recent years.
The president declared “all-out” war against the group shortly after he came to office in May last year.
Somalia’s government and allied clan groups have forced al-Shabab from large swaths of territory since launching a major offensive last August, but the group has retaliated with a string of attacks, including bombings in Mogadishu.
The rebels have frequently retaliated with bloody attacks, underlining their ability to strike at the heart of Somali towns and military installations despite the offensive.
Despite being forced out of Mogadishu and other main urban centres more than a decade ago, al-Shabab remains entrenched in parts of rural central and southern Somalia.