Inside Al Shabab: How the Somalia militant group rules through fear
As the Somalia government fends off militant group Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked insurgency shows its power through intimidation of a whistle-blower.
On Oct. 27, 2008, Ali Abdullahi Egal saw the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Al Shabab stone to death a 13-year-old girl, Aisha Duhulow, under the charge of adultery. The act was not only brutal, but also, in his view, un-Islamic.Skip to next paragraph
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The girl had apparently been raped, was not given the right to a legal advocate, and Al Shabab didn’t even bother to produce four eyewitnesses before declaring her guilty.
When Mr. Egal, a human rights activist, reported this event to local and international news organizations two days later, it produced an outcry, and helped set in stone Al Shabab’s image as a cruel and totalitarian regime in control of large portions of southern Somalia. Within a day, Egal received his first death threat, and then his second.
“They called me on the telephone and threatened me,” says Egal, now living in a variety of safe houses in neighboring Kenya. “They said, ‘You are working with the kaffir [unbelievers], you work for the CIA and Israeli intelligence.’ ”
Later, when he reached Kenya, he received a chilling e-mail:
“We have noted that you escaped from us and fled from Kismayo. After that we realized that your family also moved from the village in order to run off from us but you are being awaited in any of the refugee camps in Kenya and you will not survive. Even if you reach Nairobi, it will not help you as you were sentenced to death. Therefore, the Islamic fighters will retaliate against you and you will not know which date it is.”
The e-mail was signed by the senior Al Shabab leader of Kismayo, Sheikh A.G.Y. Abu Hamza.
After two years, Al Shabab’s hold over the port city of Kismayo and much of southern Somalia has only strengthened, and its threat to the Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu is matched only by its brutal treatment to those Somalis it sees as enemies.
Some of the heaviest fighting of the year erupted last week in Mogadishu as militants advanced on government-held territory, killing more than 50 people and sending hundreds fleeing. Some 3.7 million Somalis – nearly half of the population – already need aid. Fighting continued into this week, with the government struggling to hold the capital with the help of more than 6,000 African Union peacekeepers.
Since 2007, at least nine Somali journalists have been killed by Al Shabab, while dozens of others have fled Al Shabab-controlled areas after repeated death threats. Harsh sentences for criminals – amputation for thieves, stoning for adulterers, decapitation for various other enemies – have become public events in football stadiums, scenes reminiscent of when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan.