MOGADISHU, Somalia – Fighters from Somalia’s al-Qaida linked militant group moved into the northern region where Somali pirates operate early Monday, residents said, forcing pirates to flee and raising the specter of an insurgent attempt to close down the piracy trade.

The pirate gang holding a kidnapped British couple fled into a forest to escape the militants, a self-proclaimed pirate chieftain said.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were bundled into a car early Monday after militants neared the town of Haradhere, said Maslah Yare, who leads the pirate gang holding the Chandlers.

Somali pirates and insurgents are two separate groups. If al-Shabab militants take control of pirate strongholds, the 300-plus foreign hostages that pirates hold could be in greater danger. Yare said the Chandlers — who are in their 50s — were walking deep into a forest and away from the Islamist militants.

“Al-Shabab militants are chasing us,” Yare told The Associated Press by phone.

A spokesman from the militant group could not be reached for comment Monday.

But a witness, businessman Ahmed Salad, said an advance team of al-Shabab militants entered the pirate lair in two vehicles around midnight Sunday after they had routed moderate Islamists from villages nearby. He said the militants withdrew a short while later.

As Haradhere became a pirate stronghold in recent years, vices arrived alongside the millions of dollars in ransoms pirates have raked in. The drugs, alcohol and prostitution that now thrive in Haradhere are vehemently opposed by al-Shabab, an ultraconservative Islamist militia