The islamist militants of Al-Shabaab have intensified their grip in Somalia, with taxes being collected from local playing a major role for sustainability, reports the Washington Post.

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For years now, the militants have resorted to collection of taxes from locals after their channels, especially illegal charcoal and sugar trade, was shut down by KDF in Kismayo.

Of the six states in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has considerable grip at Jubbaland, Southwest and with minimal following at Puntland and Somaliland.

Businessmen are reportedly intimidated to pay taxes, failure to which, they face death threats. So connected they are perhaps due their intelligence network, that they even know the size of someone's business.

“Will you pick up our call? Yes or no. This is the mujahideen,” Osman was told. The mujahideen, the Islamist militants, al-Shabab. 

He knew right away what they wanted: to capture him in a protection money racket that the extremist group has been expanding across Somalia for years. 

“My heart could barely pump blood in that moment,” said Osman, 45, a father of seven, who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used out of fear for his life. 

“If I don’t pay, they kill me.”When Osman replied “yes,” he found that al-Shabab knew the size of his business and even how many containers of goods he imported through the city’s seaport. Don’t lie to us, they told him, we have the manifests from the ships to cross-check. 

The militants have made it difficult for the federal government to operate. They are determined to establish a parallel government in Somalia.

“It is a very scary situation,” said Somali Finance Minister Abdirahman Beileh. “We have not been able to address it. It is the number one problem in this country.”

The growth of al-Shabab’s tax revenue stands at odds with the federal government’s claims that the insurgency is on its back foot — and in sharp contrast to the U.S. military’s claims that its operations in Somalia are weakening the insurgency. 

A spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, John D. Manley, said in an emailed statement that the U.S. military targets al-Shabab’s “financial and collection operations” with airstrikes.

He acknowledged that the militant group is “generally successful using threats and violence to intimidate clans and locals into paying taxes.”

Last week, United Nations dismissed Kenya's request to have Al-Shabaab listed as a terrorists group. Both Somalia and US insist that such a move will water gains security forces have made.

Currently, US has over 500 troops in Somalia. AMISOM also has over 6,000 troops, with Kenya Defense Forces soldiers manning Jubbaland and Southwest.

The taxes from locals are used in paying the militants, funding their activities including collection of intelligence and purchasing of machine guns among others.