In Somalia, a comedian critical of Al Shabab is assassinated

Warsame Shire Awale was known for pillorying Al Shabab, Somalia’s Al Qaeda-allied Islamist militants, in radio plays and poems.

One of Somalia’s best-loved broadcast comedians and playwrights has died after an apparent assassination shooting, making him the 18th media figure killed in the country this year.

Two young men armed with pistols forced their way into Warsame Shire Awale’s home in Mogadishu and shot him several times as he sat talking to his wife in their garden. He was taken to a hospital but died from his wounds late on Monday.

Mr. Awale was the 18th reporter or broadcaster to be killed in Somalia in 2012, making the country the second most dangerous for journalists in the world this year after Syria.

Awale, 60, was known for pillorying Al Shabab, Somalia’s Al Qaeda-allied Islamist militants, in radio plays and poems, and it is suspected that his assassination was ordered by the group’s radical leadership.

"He was sitting in the garden and I was next to him, we were chatting when suddenly two men armed with pistols came and shot my husband and then they ran off,” Fowziyo Farah, Awale’s wife, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “Really my husband was a nice man, they targeted him for no reason. He never had any threats made against him before. I call on the government to capture the perpetrators.”

Another recent killing

Two days ago, Mohamed Mohamud Turyare, a journalist and producer with Radio Shabelle, died as a result of wounds inflicted on Oct. 21 when he was shot in a similar attack.

“I strongly condemn the targeted and persistent assault on Somalia’s media professionals,” said Augustine Mahiga, Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Somalia and the most senior United Nations official in the country. “The world is concerned that none of these murders have resulted in conclusive arrests, investigations, and due process or convictions of suspects.”

Awale may have become a target because of comments he made on air about gunmen attacking civilians, the National Union of Somali Journalists said. 

He had performed with the band of the Somali Police Force and had reportedly urged people to join their ranks as they struggle to keep order in the face of violent attacks by Al Shabab.

Tom Rhodes, East Africa consultant for the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists, echoed calls for greater government action to safeguard journalists’ lives.

"This has been the deadliest year for Somali journalists ever recorded by CPJ,” he said. “This record fatality rate underlines the urgency with which authorities must act to secure conditions in Somalia, especially in the capital."

Osman Gure, director of Radio Kulmiye, where Awale worked, says he spoke to his colleague less than two hours before he was killed and that they were preparing a new play for the radio station.

Mr. Gure blames Al Shabab for the killing, even though a militant spokesman denied that his men were behind the shooting.

“These are assaults against the freedom of the Somali media,” Gure says. “I believe they killed him for expressing his views. They are against any active person who is taking part in the development of the country.”

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