"The insurgents were able to enter the town easily," he said, "because the government forces retreated to the Somali-Ethiopian border earlier as they received information that the militants were heading the town."
 
Overnight raid
 
Abdi-qani Hashi, a resident of Beledwayne, said the fighters entered the town late on Sunday, took up strategic positions, freed prisoners and burned the governor's house before withdrawing.
 
"We have discovered the dead bodies of three foreigners and the owner of the Hakab Private English School in the town this morning," said Ayanle Husein Abdi, a local resident.
 
Some locals said one of the slain Somalis had returned home to build a school and educate locals.
 
Islamic courts fighters have been battling Somalia's UN-backed government and its Ethiopian allies since they were pushed out of Mogadishu in December 2006.
 
The fighters have since regrouped and vowed to wage an Iraq-style armed campaign.
 
Somalia has been without a government since 1991, when Mohamed Siad Barre, the president, was ousted and the nation collapsed into lawlessness and clan warfare.
 
Other attacks
 
There was violence in other parts of Somalia too over the past couple of days.
 
In the southern town of Merka, Abdi-Alalah, a cinema owner, said on Monday that four people were killed and 16 others wounded when assailants threw a grenade into a building where hundreds of young people were watching a Hollywood film.
 
In the capital, Mogadishu, there was an overnight attack on a base of Burundian peacekeepers, Captain Clement Cimana, their spokesman, said.
 
Gunfire could be heard for several hours overnight near two police bases in the capital.
 
Fighters on Sunday had ambushed an Ethiopian army convoy as it drove through central Somalia, sparking a 30-minute gunfight, according to a resident of nearby Halgan village who gave his name only as Bashir.