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Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Somalis grow fearful of Islamists

Al-Shabab fighters

By Mohamed Mohamed
BBC Somali Service

Public anger at the recent stoning of a 13-year-old girl in Somalia shows the growing resentment towards radical Islamists who have gained control of much of the south and centre of the country.

Insurgents from the militant group al-Shabab are seen as authoritarian and unaccountable - unlike the Islamists who were in control of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2006.

Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was stoned to death for adultery in the southern port city of Kismayo, which was taken control by al-Shabab and its allies in August.

I don't know what crime she committed other than being raped - and I was not even allowed to see her body
Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow's aunt

Her 62-year-old aunt told the BBC that the teenager had in fact been raped by three armed men - and she took Asha to the police station to report it.

Several days later, after two suspects had been arrested, she was asked to return to the station with her niece.

To her surprise the girl was taken into custody too.

"I tried to speak to the police but they said they were not talking," she said.

Three days later, after Asha had been tried in an Islamist court, she was stoned to death.

"They said that the girl had chatted up these men and had confessed to adultery," she said.

But the aunt said the authorities clearly failed to notice her age, how mentally disturbed she was by her experience, or her history of mental illness.

"She was only 13 years old. I have got her card from Hagarder refugee camp which has her age on it. She might have looked a bit older, but you could tell her age by talking to her," she said.

Law and order

Other critics point to the lack of lawyers, witnesses or appeal process.

The Islamists were reported to have announced their verdict the day before the stoning from cars with loudspeakers.

But Asha's aunt was not informed of the court's decision - despite repeated visits to the police station.

A public flogging in Mogadishu

"I was not even told that she was to be killed, I just heard it from people after it happened.

"I don't know what crime she committed other than being raped; and I was not even allowed to see her body," she said.

Al-Shabab in Kismayo has refused attempts by the BBC to discuss the stoning.

It is almost two years since the Ethiopian-backed interim government ousted the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which had ruled much of Somalia for nearly six months.

In 2006, the UIC was generally welcomed for the law and order it brought to a country bedevilled by more than a decade of civil war and clan fighting.

UIC fighters launched an insurgency following what many Somalis regarded as an Ethiopian invasion. Its youth and military wing, al-Shabab, gained notoriety for its determination, despite its much smaller numbers.

Fear

The group, which is on the US terror list and is said to have links with al-Qaeda, has since split from the UIC, angered by its current peace negotiations with the government.

It does not work against the UIC, but it favours co-operating with other groups including:

• The Kaanboni, led by Hassan Turki, who is also on the US terror list

• The Islamic Front, a new group about which very little is known.

For example, since mid-August, when they captured the Lower Jubba, Middle Jubba and Gedo regions from local clan militia, they now share the administration with existing officials.

map
According to well-informed sources in the regions who requested anonymity, these groups instil fear among the local population.

"You keep quiet and follow the commands of the Islamists, or emigrate to neighbouring countries, or simply die and leave this world," one of them said.

In Mogadishu, al-Shabab insurgents are said to move around the city freely - often in vehicles captured from the government.

The government forces and troops from Ethiopia and the African Union are limited to the airport, port, presidential palace and a few military camps.

Besides the central city of Baidoa, these are the only areas government forces now hold.

When they attempt to move between these points, they are often ambushed by the Islamists.

A few weeks ago, al-Shabab held a military parade in a former military camp in the capital, where they carried out a public flogging of two men sentenced by an Islamic court over a family dispute.

The flogging took place in front of crowds of local residents, and was orchestrated to show just who is running the show.

Death threats

Al-Shabab insurgents have a countrywide organisation, threatening anyone they perceive to be supporting the government with text messages.

They are wrong if they committed a kidnap. They will have to be punished under Sharia law
Hiiran's al-Shabab Chairman Sheikh Ali Dheere

One human rights activist outside the capital told the BBC that he was ordered to close down his offices.

He said he began receiving quite frequent threatening messages on his mobile. So he stopped using his phone.

Eventually a relative brought him a stern message from al-Shabab. It said if he did not stop his work, he would be killed.

As the government has lost ground over the last five months, the number of attacks on civil society activists, local non-governmental workers and international aid workers has increased.

Some have been shot dead point-blank; others have been kidnapped and are still missing.

Most suspect that those behind the attacks are al-Shabab insurgents, even if no-one dares say so publicly.

In the central Hiiran region, where most towns have seen a presence of al-Shabab and the more moderate UIC since July, people have been more vocal in their complaints.

'Not Islamic'

A former army engineer and political activist detailed examples of those targeted because of their association with Ethiopia or the West.

"They have killed 17 civilians without reason or due process including two teachers and a well-known traditional elder, Da'ar Hirsi Hooshow," the man, whose name is being withheld for his own safety, told the BBC.

The teachers worked at a school that taught English and employed foreign staff.

The shooting of Mr Hooshow, who was known to be holding talks with Ethiopian troops before he was shot dead on 10 October, prompted angry scenes in Beled Weyne.

Town residents stoned al-Shabab centres believing them to be behind the killing.

And while the UIC may share al-Shabab's aim to see the Ethiopians leave the country, it has distanced itself from its former allies.

On Monday, UIC authorities in Beled Weyne arrested nine al-Shabab members for allegedly kidnapping an official over the weekend

"We didn't ask them to do any operation at all," Hiiran's al-Shabab Chairman Sheikh Ali Dheere told the BBC.

"They are wrong if they committed a kidnap. They will have to be punished under Sharia law," he said.

But many fear that law and order is not al-Shabab's priority.

"They are holding this region with the barrel of the gun, and it has nothing to do with Islam," the Hiiran political activist said.

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