/ 24 April 2008

Amnesty: Ethiopia army slit throats in Somali mosque

Amnesty International accused Ethiopian soldiers on Wednesday of killing 21 people, including an imam and several Islamic scholars, at a Mogadishu mosque and said seven of the victims had their throats slit.

The rights group said the soldiers had also captured dozens of children during the raid on the al-Hidaaya mosque in the north of the Somali capital earlier this week during operations against Islamist insurgents.

Ethiopia has thousands of soldiers in neighbouring Somalia to bolster a Western-backed government against rebels fighting an Iraq-style insurgency in the Horn of Africa nation.

The Ethiopian and Somali governments have not responded publicly to accusations of atrocities at the mosque. But they have frequently denied abusing human rights in the fight against groups they call al-Qaeda-backed terrorists.

Amnesty said those killed at the mosque included Imam Sheikh Saiid Yaha and several scholars of the moderate Tabligh group that operated there.

”Eye-witnesses report that those killed inside the mosque were unarmed civilians taking no active part in hostilities,” Amnesty said. ”Seven of the 21 were reported to have died after their throats were cut — a form of extra-judicial execution practiced by Ethiopian forces in Somalia.”

Some moderate Islamist leaders have reacted to the mosque incident, and a recent upsurge of fighting in Mogadishu, by postponing plans to join United Nations-sponsored peace talks.

More than 100 people have been killed since the weekend in clashes in the coastal capital, and the takeover of several small towns by the Islamists’ militant al-Shabaab wing.

Washington last month put al-Shabaab on its terrorism list.

More corpses

Amnesty urged the Ethiopian military to release all 41 children it said were held after the mosque raid.

”Witnesses have told Amnesty International that Ethiopian forces would only release the children from their military base in north Mogadishu ‘once they had been investigated’ and ‘if they were not terrorists’,” it said.

Some of the children — whose ages were as low as nine — were reported to have been freed, though the majority were still in custody, Amnesty’s statement added.

Various witnesses said they had seen beheaded bodies lying outside the mosque after the fighting.

Another four corpses showed up in Mogadishu on Thursday, at the compound of the SOS children’s hospital that had also been occupied by Ethiopian troops during clashes at the weekend.

”The Ethiopian troops who occupied SOS Hospital since the weekend left last night [Tuesday], taking the hospital’s food and cooking oil with them and they also damaged the properties of the hospital,” SOS security officer Abey Saney Osman said.

”There are four dead bodies, one inside and three others outside the gate of the compound. We are now inside the hospital and trying to sort all the mess,” he said by phone.

An SOS employee, laboratory technician Mohammed Faagte, said a colleague died and four others were wounded while trying to flee the hospital when the fighting began.

Civilians have borne the burnt of Somalia’s near-incessant violence since the 1991 toppling of a dictator.

About one million of the nation’s nine million population live as refugees in their own land. — Reuters