By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)– Somalia’s minority Christians observed Pentecost amid gunfire Sunday, May 23, as witnesses reported that at least 14 people died in clashes between pro-government troops and Muslim militants who have killed Christians and pledged to turn Somalia into a strict Islamic state.
Residents said fighters from the insurgent group al-Shabab tried to advance on the presidential palace overnight but were stopped by government troops and African Union peacekeepers.
The fighting came after Christians confirmed that al-Shabab shot and killed another leader of the underground church movement in Somalia in the town of Xarardheere, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the regional capital Jowhar.
Yusuf Ali Nur, 57, had reportedly been on a list of people al-Shabab suspected of being Christian. Nur is survived by his wife, whose name was withheld for security reasons, and three children, ages 11, 9 and 7.
His death on May 4 came after al-Shabab gunmen killed Christian Mu’awiye Hilowle Ali in front of his house in the town of Afgoye, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu, Christians said.
SURVIVED BY FAMILY
Ali, who is reportedly survived by a wife and ten children, was reportedly shot at close range and died on the spot on March 23, Christians said.
Over a dozen Christians are known to have been killed by militants within a year, according to Christian advocacy groups.
Al-Shabab has vowed to rid Somalia of Christianity and wants to establish an Islamic government based on Sharia law. In March al-Shabab official Sheik Ali Husein warned Christians and other residents that his group wants “to get rid of the barbaric and non-Islamic culture in the country.”
There are believed to be some 1,000 active evangelical Christians in Somalia. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia, or Islamic law, that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam, according to Christians.
With his presidential palace under attack Sunday, May 23, the president held talks with the international community at a United Nations backed conference in Istanbul, Turkey, to shore up worldwide support for his fragile government.
INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT URGED
On Saturday, May 22, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly said that international support for the government is “the only way” to stabilize Somalia.
Al-Shabab and another group, Hizbul Islam, already control much of central and southern Somalia, and large parts of Mogadishu. The government controls only small areas around the airport, seaport and presidential palace with the support of the African Union troops, observers say.
The Sharif government has struggled with internal conflicts that often hamper its effectiveness the Voice of America (VOA) network reported. The president spent much of last week embroiled in a political dispute after he tried to fire the prime minister.
He backed down on this week, saying he recognized the method of the firing was unconstitutional.
Fighting in Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than a million people over the past few years, according to United Nations and other estimates. Aid groups have described Somalia’s humanitarian situation as among the most dire in the world.
The Horn of Africa country has not had a stable central government in nearly 20 years, and Somali pirates often make headlines attacking international ships.