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Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Radio chief in Somalia shot dead

A man covers the slain body of Said Tahlil Ahmed
Said Tahlil Ahmed was shot dead in Mogadishu's Bakara Market

The director of Somalia's independent HornAfrik radio station, Said Tahlil Ahmed, has been killed in the capital.

An eyewitness told the BBC a group of journalists were attacked on their way to a press conference called by the hardline Islamist militia al-Shabab.

A spokesman for the group denied to the BBC any responsibility for the killing.

Al-Shabab does not support the new president - Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist - recently elected by MPs as part of a peace process.

Civilians and journalists gathered outside the HornAfrik station in Mogadishu after Wednesday's killing.

And fighters belonging to the Union of Islamic Courts - who are loyal to the new president - turned up to provide security.

Since the announcement of the murder, all radio stations in the capital have been playing Koranic verses.

Analysts say this may be out of respect for Mr Ahmed or possibly because they are frightened of further attacks.

Mr Ahmed is the third senior employee of the popular HornAfrik radio station to be killed in the past two years.

Masked gunmen

A journalist, who was with Mr Ahmed when he was attacked, told the BBC Somali Service that senior members of Mogadishu's radio stations had been called to a press conference by al-Shabab.

We are going after those who are behind the killing and will bring them to justice
Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein
Al-Shabab representative

He said they were nearly at the venue in Mogadishu's central Bakara Market when masked gunmen fired on them.

Mr Ahmed fell to the ground before his attackers approached and shot him again.

Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, the al-Shabab representative in Mogadishu, confirmed his group had invited the media to a meeting in the capital about the situation in the country.

But he firmly denied al-Shabab had been behind the shooting.

He blamed an unnamed "enemy" who he said wanted to "defame" them.

"We are going after those who are behind the killing and will bring them to justice," he told the BBC's Somali Service.

Colleagues say Mr Ahmed was a well-respected journalist who continued working in Somalia after the collapse of Siad Barre's regime in 1991 despite extremely dangerous conditions in the capital.

He became the director of HornAfrik in 2007 after the station's owner, Ali Iman Sharmake, was killed by a car bomb - as he returned from the funeral of a presenter at the station who was himself murdered.

Media targets

Journalists have become targets for some of the many armed groups that roam Somalia - at least a dozen have been killed since 2007, and many more have fled the country.

Map

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected president by MPs at a meeting in neighbouring Djibouti last Friday as part of a UN-brokered plan.

A key part of that plan was the withdrawal of Ethiopian soldiers, who had entered Somalia just over two years ago to oust the UIC.

However, al-Shabab has taken advantage of the Ethiopians' pull-out to boost its control of the south and it accuses him of selling out to the West.

Al-Shabab now even controls Baidoa, the seat of the interim parliament, taking the central town while MPs were in neighbouring Djibouti for the presidential vote.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government for nearly two decades and tens of thousands of people have been killed in successive waves of violence.

About 3,600 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers, from an intended 8,000-strong African Union force, are deployed in Mogadishu.

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