MOGADISHU (SomalilandPress) – Officials in lawless northern Somalia traded accusations on Thursday a day after masked gunmen massacred seven Pakistani preachers at a mosque.

The sheikhs were killed in Galkayo, a town on the southern edge of the semi-autonomous northern Puntland region. Violence is increasing in the area, which had been relatively more peaceful than the rest of the failed Horn of Africa state.

Western security agencies say Somalia has become a haven for Islamist militant plotting attacks in the region and beyond.

The president of Puntland, Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, accused officials in Galmudug, which covers the southern part of the town, of ordering Wednesday’s shooting.

“The administration of southern Galkayo was behind the killing of the Pakistani preachers,” Farole told reporters. “They are causing chaos in our region.”

But a senior Galmudug official, Mohamed Warsame, denied it.

“Puntland is definitely behind the killings,” Warsame said.

“When the Pakistanis landed in Puntland their passports were taken by the authorities and they were settled in a mosque … the Puntland president has imposed a night curfew in the north of Galkayo. His forces must have killed them.”

The group of about 25 sheikhs had arrived in Puntland on Tuesday. Local officials said they were mostly from Karachi.

It remained far from clear why they were murdered.

Some residents said they may have been suspected of al Qaeda links, while others rejected that and said the clerics were from South Asia’s apolitical Tablighi Jamaat religious movement.

Somalia has been torn by civil war since 1991, and the government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed controls only small pockets of the bomb-shattered capital Mogadishu.

It is battling hardline Islamist rebels in southern and central regions, including the al Shabaab group, which the United States accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

At least six people were killed in Mogadishu on Wednesday when two supposedly pro-government factions exchanged artillery and anti-aircraft fire across the city’s strategic K4 junction.

Violence in Somalia has killed more than 18,000 people since the start of 2007 and driven another 1 million from their homes.