By BosNewsLife Africa Service
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian convert who was captured and reportedly tortured by Islamic militants in Somalia remained missing Friday, April 19, and there were fears he may have died.
Four fighters of militant group al-Shabab abducted Hassan Gulled, 25, on March 23, after monitoring him for several weeks, local Christians said. He was thought to be held at an al-Shabab base in Bulo Marer, Somalia.
Christian rights activists said Gulled traveled to Somalia from neighboring Kenya on February 27 to visit family.
Gulled is one of many Somali refugees risking traveling to Somalia since a new government was established following victories over al-Shabab, by African Union peacekeepers.
The Christian reportedly fled Somalia in 2007 to establish a new life in Kenya. In 2010, Gulled became a Christian, making him “an ideal target for Islamic extremists in East Africa,” said International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group monitoring developments in the troubled nation.
Al-Shabab militants in Kenya who knew of Gulled’s conversion informed fellow fighters in Somalia, who followed him several weeks. Local Christians have said they believe the militants are “torturing him to see whether he [will] deny his Christian faith.” They have expressed concerns he “could have been killed.”
There was no official reaction from al-Shabab, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network. However ICC told BosNewsLife that he is the fourth Christian known to be attacked by the militants in Somalia in the past five months.
“On February 18, Ahmed Ali Jimale was shot by al-Shabab militants while standing outside his house in Alanley village. On December 8, Mursal Isse Said was also shot outside his house by militants in Beledweyne. On November 16, Farhan Haji Mosa was beheaded by al-Shabab militants in Barawa after it was discovered that he had converted to Christianity,” ICC recalled.
Al-Shabab fights for a state based on harsh Sharia, or Islamic law, and believes Somalis are born Muslims by default. Somalis found practicing another religion, are considered guilty of apostasy.
In Islamic Sharia, apostasy occurs when a Muslim leaves Islam for another faith. According to strict interpretations of Sharia, people guilty of apostasy should be put to death, experts say. “Al-Shabab adheres to such a strict interpretation, which is why they deal with apostates so harshly,” including Christians, ICC said.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, William Stark, told BosNewsLife he remains concerned about the future. “The group continues to terrorize Christians in both Somalia and neighboring countries,” he said.
“Al-Shabab is an Islamic extremist group that has vowed to make Somalia ‘purely Islamic.’ The group adheres to an extremely harsh interpretation of Sharia that includes the beheading of converts from Islam and the removal of hands from thieves.”
He said that as “more Somalis return to Somalia following the establishment of the new government, steps must be taken to protect religious minorities.”
Stark said he was especially concerned about the “small and extremely vulnerable population of Christians in Somalia.”
The “practice of kidnapping, torturing and killing converts from Islam must be addressed by the international community and should have no place in modern society,” he added.
Despite the reported attacks there may be at least 1,000 devoted Christians in the country, according to well-informed Christian groups, but experts say an exact figure is difficult to get as many pretend to be Muslims for fear of retribution.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).