MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Hardline Somali Islamist insurgents said on Friday they executed a politician accused of being a “spy” for Ethiopian troops and militia opposed to them.
The shooting of Abdirahman Ahmed, 55, in the southern port of Kismayu was the highest-profile such execution by the al Shabaab (Youth) group since a young woman was stoned to death late last year after being accused of adultery.
Al Shabaab, which is on a U.S. list of terrorism groups, took Kismayu in August 2008 during its now two-year war against the Somali government and its Ethiopian military backers. It controls large swathes of south-central Somalia.
A local spokesman for al Shabaab, Sheikh Hassan Yacqub, said Ahmed had been warned several times to break ties with the Ethiopians and local militias who previously controlled Kismayu.
“He was in our jail for eight days and then we took him before the court, and finally we executed him according to Islamic sharia law,” he told Reuters. “Anybody who spies for the non-believers will definitely face the death sentence.”
A statement on www.kataaib.net, one of several sites used by the militants, said Ahmed, was shot after he confessed to being “Allah’s enemy” and a court found him guilty of trying to mastermind the re-capture of Kismayu.
Local residents said he had been buried in a place called the “non-believers’ cemetery.”
Also on Friday, foreign and Somali media watchdogs said kidnappers had released a local journalist, Abdifatah Mohamed Elmi, who was kidnapped in August last year in Mogadishu.
Two foreign journalists taken with him, a Canadian and an Australian, are still missing.
“The Somali journalist’s release is obviously good news, but we will feel no relief until the kidnappers have also released the two foreign journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Our concern about their fate is as strong as ever given the growing instability in Mogadishu.
The African Union (AU) rebuked media on Friday for “negative” coverage of Somalia, saying the Ethiopian withdrawal from the city was a major step towards peace.
“It is sad to note that positive developments in Somalia are always overlooked while emphasis is put on negative events,” it said in a statement by its peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu.
The AU, which has 3,500 soldiers in Somalia, took particular issue with some local media reports — citing witnesses — that al Shabaab group had taken over bases in Mogadishu.
Addis Ababa pulled its troops from the city this week, two years after going in to oust a sharia courts movement that it saw as a threat to regional stability and linked to al Qaeda.
The AU statement said the old Ethiopian bases had, in fact, been occupied by forces of the government and a moderate wing of an opposition Islamist group. The United Nations is pressing those two sides to form a power-sharing administration.
The AU said Ethiopia’s exit was in line with a U.N.-brokered peace plan for Somalia, that also foresees the expansion of parliament and election of a new president this month.
“The peace process in Somalia is gaining momentum,” it said.
Despite such optimism, many Somalis fear more violence given the power vacuum left by the Ethiopians. Islamist factions have been fighting among themselves, while hardliners have been targeting the departing Ethiopians, the government and the AU.
Somalia has been mired in civil conflict since 1991.
Reporting by Reuters team in Somalia, Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; editing by Elizabeth Piper