February 4, 2009 / 4:26 PM / 10 years ago

Somali gunmen kill head of media house

(Adds union comment)

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead the head of private media house HornAfrik in Mogadishu on Wednesday in the latest assassination of a journalist in Somalia.

Said Tahlil Ahmed was killed in Mogadishu’s Bakara market, witnesses and colleagues said. The market is often a battleground for government soldiers and Islamist insurgents.

"Two masked men armed with pistols turned into an alley and shot our friend Said dead," a local reporter, who was with him, told Reuters, asking not to be named.

"They shot him several times in the heart and he died on the spot. We ran away for our lives as they kept shooting."

A shopkeeper at the market confirmed the shooting. "His body now lies on the spot. The men disappeared soon after," Bakara trader Farah Hassan said.

Ahmed is the ninth local journalist killed since the start of 2007, according to Ali Yasin Gedi, vice-chairman of local rights group, Elman Peace and Human Rights.

The Horn of Africa nation is one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) said Ahmed was murdered for his commitment to independent journalism and asked the government of Somalia’s new President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed stop the killing of journalists.

"This is a outrageous and appalling assassination," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ’s Secretary General. "Enough is enough, the government ... has to act swiftly to end targeted violence against journalists."

At least 17,000 civilians have been killed and 29,000 others wounded over the past two years in Somalia’s conflict.

Many Somalis hope the election of Ahmed, a moderate Islamist leader, on Saturday will bring peace.

But his former militant allies have vowed to fight the new administration and branded Ahmed a traitor for attending an African heads of states summit in Ethiopia.

Somalia’s northern neighbour aided Ahmed’s predecessor in fighting the Islamists.

Ahmed was chairman of the Islamic Courts Union that ruled Mogadishu in 2006 before Ethiopia ousted them.

Before joining the government, Ahmed split with the hardline opposition. He has pledged to forge peace with Ethiopia and reach out to his former allies to try to end the violence.

Ethiopian troops, which left the country in January after more than two years in Somalia, are reported to have crossed back over the border to battle Islamists.

Addis Ababa has denied the report but said it would keep a heavy troop presence on the border for security.

The hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab has taken advantage of the vacuum left by the Ethiopians to occupy more towns and increase control in the south.

The movement, which is called youth in Arabic and is on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations, has been holding demonstrations this week against the new president. (Writing by Helen Nyambura; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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