Islamic militia open fire on demonstrators in Somalia

Islamic fighters opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators in a key Somali seaport on Thursday, in a third day of protests over their seizure of the town. No casualties were reported.

Seven women were arrested by the Islamic militia after they joined demonstrations that have erupted in Kismayo, Somalia’s third largest town, residents told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The stone-throwing crowds chanted that the fighters “are not Muslims” and “use Islam as a cover”.

The Islamic militia has swept through southern Somalia since taking over the capital in June. Its strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raises the spectre of Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban militia, and contrasts with the moderate Islam that has dominated Somali culture for centuries.
Some Somalis, though, have welcomed the order the militia have brought after years of anarchic clan rule.

In Kismayo on Thursday, demonstrators, most of them women and children, blocked roads with trees and rocks to prevent Islamic militia using their armoured trucks, many of which were flying the black flags associated with Islamic extremism, to break up the protests.

Local businesses and markets closed down because of the demonstrations in this town 420km south-west of the capital, Mogadishu.

The militiamen, armed with guns and wearing green military fatigues and white headbands, patrolled the streets.

Adan Farah Sed told the Associated Press by phone from Kismayo that residents felt threatened by the militiamen. Another resident, Adni Sagaro, said they should “go back to their bases and leave our city alone”.

The militiamen had opened fire on a similar protest on Monday, a day after they took Kismayo without a fight. Witnesses said a teenager was killed and two others wounded.

On Wednesday 300 fighters surrendered their guns and armoured trucks to the Islamic militia and pledged to join their forces.

Aden Hashi Ayro, the military chief of the Islamic group in Somalia, accepted the weapons, saying their aim “is to worship Allah and fight for the sake of Islam”.

Ayro, who according to the United Nations is a suspected al-Qaeda collaborator who trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, said “Among our militia will be Somalis and foreigners.”

The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war on the US.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. The Islamic group has stepped into the power vacuum. - Sapa-AP

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