Somalia's Islamic movement abandoned the nation's capital on Thursday and clan militiamen poured into the streets to take control of Mogadishu, as government forces approached to within 30 kilometers (18 miles).
"We will capture Mogadishu any time within the coming hours," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press. "We are now at the entry points of the city."
Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the executive leader of the Council of Islamic Courts, said in an interview with al-Jazeera television that he ordered his forces out of Mogadishu to avoid bloodshed in the capital. Residents living south of Mogadishu said they saw convoys of Islamic fighters driving south toward the port city of Kismayo.
In Mogadishu, gunfire echoed through the streets and hundreds of gunmen, who just hours earlier fought for Quranic rule, took off their Islamic uniforms and submitted to the command of clan elders, an AP reporter in Mogadishu said.
Some began looting Islamic courts' bases and buildings belonging to Islamic courts officials, witnesses said.
"I have seen that the Islamists are defeated. I'm going to rejoin my clan," said gunman Mohamed Barre Sidow. "I was forced to join the Islamic courts by my clan, so I now I will return to my clan and they will decide my fate, whether I join the government or not."
Yusuf Ibrahim, a former Islamic fighter who quit Thursday, said only the most hardcore fighters decided to continue fighting the government and Ethiopian troops.
"They have left for Kismayo. Their number was around 3,000," he said.
Other witnesses reported seeing a large number of foreign fighters in the convoys heading south and there were rumors they were headed for an Islamic courts' base at the very southern tip of Somalia called Ras Chiamboni.
Islamic movement leaders had called on foreign Muslims to join their "holy war" against Ethiopia, a predominantly Christian nation. Hundreds were believed to have answered the call.