"We arrested 25 women and seven men who were dancing near Balad. We released them after whipping them. We warned them many times, but they wouldn't listen," he said.

"The dancing of men and women together is illegal and totally against Islam. We neither killed them nor injured them, but only whipped them according to the Islamic law," Adow said.

Rape victim stoned

Last month, Somali fighters stoned to death a 13-year-old girl after an Islamic court in the southern port of Kismayo found her guilty of adultery. It later emerged that she was raped.

The UN said the girl was raped by three men while visiting her grandmother.

The fighters were forced out of southern Somalia early in 2007 after battling with Ethiopian-backed Somali forces, which ended their brief contorl of the territory where they had imposed Islamic law.

But they have turned to guerrilla attacks on Ethiopian, Somali and African Union peacekeepers, mainly in Mogadishu, and have had some success.

Somalia has had no effective government since a coup removed Siad Barre from power in 1991, starting a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore stability.