By BosNewsLife Africa Service
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Somalia faced a tense day Thursday, August 13, amid fresh reports that fighters of the country’s main Islamic insurgent group al-Shabab beheaded four Christian aid workers for refusing to renounce their faith in Christ.
International Christian Concern (ICC), a major advocacy group investigating reports of religious persecution, told BosNewsLife that al-Shabab members killed Fatima Sultan, Ali Ma’ow, Sheik Mohammed Abdi and Maaddey Diil after kidnapping them on July 27 in the coastal town of Merca, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the capital Mogadishu.
“The Islamists kidnapped and eventually beheaded the Christians after they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ,” ICC said. The four Christians had reportedly been working for a local non-governmental organization that helps orphans in southern Somalia.
ICC said that on August 4, an unidentified junior al-Shabab militant notified families of the victims that the four Christians had been beheaded for apostasy. He allegedly described the Christians as promoters of “fitna,” a Muslim term for religious discord.
The militant, who called himself “Seiful Islam” (“the Sword of Islam”), told the families that the bodies will not be given to them “as Somalia does not have cemeteries for infidels,” ICC quoted the statement as saying. “All the four apostates were given an opportunity to return to Islam to be released but they all declined the generous offer,” a witness of the beheading allegedly said.
The reported killings of Christian aid workers came shortly after al-Shabab declared three United Nations agencies working with the country’s U.N.-backed transitional government as “enemies of Islam” and said their operations in Somalia have been shut down.
Al-Shabab also claimed responsibility for other attacks against the Christian minority in Somalia, which has been plagued by widespread lawlessness and anarchy. Earlier last month, al-Shabab beheaded seven people in the southwestern town of Baidoa after accusing them of converting to Christianity and spying for the transitional federal government of Somalia, Christians said.
In 2008, fighters of the group killed more than a half dozen Somali Christians, ICC added.
“Al-Shabab has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for the dignity of human life,” said Jonathan Racho, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and the Middle East. “The majority of Muslims in Somalia, who are also the victims of al-Shabab’s cruelty, do not support their ideology or practices. It is high time for the international community to take robust measures to end the heinous crimes that Al-Shabab and other extremist groups are committing against the people of Somalia,” Racho said.
However the government and African Union peacekeepers hold only a few blocks of Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab, which has foreign fighters in its ranks, operates openly in the capital and seeks to impose a strict form of Islam in Somalia and to overthrow the government. The United States considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida group, but al-Shabab denies that.
Muslims have also reported deadly attacks against them. On Wednesday, August 12, masked gunmen stormed a mosque Wednesday in western Somalia, killing at least five Pakistani Muslim clerics.
The victims belonged to the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement. Some extremists, including shoe bomber Richard Reid, have been linked to the group but Tablighi Jamaat is believed to be apolitical and nonviolent. Some of its members travel the world, preaching to fellow Muslims.
Police surrounded the mosque after the attack in the town of Galkayo and said they were searching for suspects, The Associated Press news agency reported. No one immediately claimed responsibility.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, but then turned on each other.
A moderate Islamist was elected president in January in hopes that he could unite the country’s feuding factions, but the violence has continued, observers said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).