Monday, September 28, 2009

Somali militants execute 'spies'

Hizbul-Islam fighters flogging two men in Mogadishu
Islamist groups often punish people in public - these men are being flogged

Islamist militants in Somalia have executed two people they accused of spying for foreign organisations.

Hundreds watched as a firing squad arranged by the al-Shabab group shot the pair in the capital, Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab officials said the men had been found guilty of working for the US CIA and African Union peacekeepers.

Analysts say the killings may have been in retaliation for a US raid earlier this month, in which an al-Qaeda suspect is said to have been killed.

The US regards al-Shabab as a proxy for al-Qaeda in Somalia, and says the group threatens to destabilise the region.

One witness to the execution told AP news agency that 10 al-Shabab fighters shot the pair in Mogadishu's main livestock market in front of hundreds of people.

Al-Shabab's Sharia courts, usually held in the open, have in the past sentenced people to execution, amputations and public floggings.

Humanitarian crisis

Two weeks ago, US forces launched an attack from helicopters in southern Somalia, reportedly killing Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan who was wanted by the US for attacks in Kenya.

It was the first such US incursion into Somalia for years.

map showing areas under Islamist control

Days after the raid, suicide bombers attacked an AU base in Mogadishu and killed at least 16 people.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in revenge for the US raid.

Islamist rebels control much of central and southern Somalia, including parts of the capital city.

Al-Shabab is attempting to impose an extreme brand of Islamic law on the areas it controls.

Its fighters are battling troops loyal to the government - which controls little territory and is backed by the US, UN and peacekeepers from the AU.

Other radical Islamists, who are allied to al-Shabab in some areas and fight them in other places, also vie for control of large parts of the country.

The country has been wracked by conflict since 1991, when it last had an effective national government.

Some three million people - half the population - need food aid, while hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.