The bloody attack against the Westgate mall in Kenya on 21 September 2013 has brought to the international community's attention the cowardly and terririzing methods used by the Somali militia Al-Shabaab, a long-standing "Ennemy of freedom of information" according to Reporters Without Borders.
Since relinquishing control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 and suffering other military setbacks, Al-Shabaab, an enemy of information but apparently a Twitter aficionado, has fallen back on terrorist methods, including bombings and summary executions in which journalists and other news and information providers are too often the victims.
Reporters Without Borders has counted more than 45 journalists murdered in Somalia since 2007, with most of these killings attributed to Al-Shabaab. So far, 2012 has been the worst year, with a total of 18 journalists slain. It left Somalia as runner-up to Syria for the title of the world’s deadliest country for news providers. Somalia is ranked 170th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Amongst the medias targeted by the militia, Radio Shabelle, Somalia’s most respected privately-owned radio station and winner of the Reporters Without Borders press freedom prize in 2010, has paid the heavier price. Six of its collaborators have been assassinated since 2009.
Six journalists have been killed in targeted attacks in Somalia so far this year. The latest is Ahmed Sharif, a state-owned Radio Mogadishu employee, who was gunned down outside his home on 17 August. Many of the fatal attacks on journalists have used the same method, with the victim being shot at close range by gunmen waiting outside his home. It is a method that Al-Shabaab often uses.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of The Village, a Mogadishu restaurant frequented by journalists and politicians, on 7 September, two weeks before the first anniversary of a similar attack on the same restaurant that killed three journalists – Liban Ali Nur of Somali National TV, Abdisatar Daher Sabriye of Radio Mogadishu and Abdirahman Yasin Ali of Radio Hamar (Voice of Democracy) – and injured at least four other journalists. The next day, another journalist, Hassan Youssouf Absuge, was murdered by a militia combatant for having covered the attack on Radio Mantaa.
At this time, Kenya is host to thousands of Somali refugees, including dozens of journalists in exile who have fled the dictatorial regime imposed up until 2011 by Al-Shabaab, and the dangerous situation that the militia continues to maintain in many parts of Somalia.
“The Kenyan population has, until now, demonstrated an incredible solidarity, queuing up to give blood and help the injured. We hope that Somalis living in Kenya, will not be made to suffer. We wish in particular that the exiled Somali journalists, who are best placed to report what is happening inside their country, are allowed to work freely.”
Photo: Somali militia, Al-Shabaab (Mohamed Dahir - AFP)