Somali Islamists tell president to step down

A Somali rebel group has told the Horn of Africa nation’s embattled leader to quit power and said hardline Islamists had succeeded where government had failed, establishing order in areas they controlled.

Hisbul Islam, which has waged a three-year insurgency against the fragile interim government alongside the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group, urged Somalia’s Muslims to unite and join in the holy war.

“President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed ought to quit. He has nothing for the people except a call for more foreign troops that massacre Somalis,” Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of Hisbul Islam, told reporters on Tuesday evening.

Hardline Islamist control much of the capital Mogadishu, hemming the government into just a few blocks manned by African Union (AU) peacekeepers, as well as vast tracts of south and central Somali.

In recent days, the militants have intensified their offensive on government targets and killed four Ugandan peacekeepers deployed near the presidential palace.

Bent on imposing a strict version of Sharia law on the nation, the militants routinely mete out stonings and amputations and have banned football, music and school bells in areas they control. They claim to have restored law and order.

Join the jihad
“I urge Islamists to unite. Areas under the control of Islamists are peaceful. They are the good Muslims who can rule the country,” Aweys said.

More than 150 people have died over the last 10 days during the latest escalation of violence in Mogadishu, medics said. On Tuesday, a roadside blast and heavy artillery fire between insurgents and AU-backed government troops killed at least 18 people.

Ali Muse, coordinator of the ambulance service, said many of Tuesday’s casualties were civilians hit by shells landing in and around the Bakara market, Mogadishu’s largest bazaar and a known rebel stronghold.

Nine people were killed when a roadside bomb hit two minibuses, doctors at the Medina Hospital said.

“The bomb exploded on the buses ahead of the one I was on board. Blood and pieces of human flesh littered the road,” witness Ismail Musamil told Reuters.

In Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, unknown attackers stabbed to death a journalist late on Tuesday, residents and a local media union said.

Condemning the killing, the National Union of Somali Journalists said the death of Abdullahi Omar Gedi highlighted its grave concerns about press freedoms in the lawless country. Gedi is the third journalist to be killed in Somalia this year. – Reuters

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