By Robert Williams
CP Africa and Middle East Correspondent
The beheadings may be linked to the Islamists’ failure to take Mogadishu after a 2-month-old offensive, said Mark Schroeder, a senior analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor. “Al-Shabab is reacting to a setback,” he told the Associated Press (AP).
The U.S. considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida, which al-Shabab denies. The group controls much of Somalia and its fighters operate openly in the capital.
Baidoa resident Madey Doyow, who spoke to members of the al-Shabab militia guarding the seven headless bodies, said the gunmen told him some of the executed men had links to pro-government militias.
According to AP, Hawa, who wanted her full name withheld, was at the police station with six other families who had been informed a relative had been executed. She told The Associated Press that her brother had been missing for about 20 days after being abducted from his house by masked men, and that she had just been informed that he had been beheaded.
Al-Shabab militia officials told her that the seven had been accused of either renouncing the Islamic religion or spying for the government, she said.
Somalia’s last functioning government was overthrown in 1991, and since then the country has been fought over by packs of warlords.
Somalia, the most eastern country in the Horn of Africa shares much of its border with Kenya and Ethiopia, two nations with strong percentage of Christians; its people used to practice a moderate Sufi Islam. But a more violent form of Islam having its roots in Saudi Arabia has taken roots lately.
It is believed that many foreign fighters have come to assist the Islamic alliance who eventually seized the capital – Mogadishu in 2006 and much of the south and ruled for six months before being chased from power by the opposing forces.
In the past year, the militants have reconquered key towns and swathes of the country, where they have carried out several whippings, amputations or executions.
Open Doors estimates there is about 4,000 Christians out of a population of about 10 million people in the predominantly Muslim country. According to Jerry Dykstra, media relations coordinator at Open Doors USA, most of the Christians in the country are from a Muslim background, and because of their conversion these Christians face the double threat of being targets of random acts of violence as well as religious extremists.
Somalia is ranked No. 5 this year in Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries with the worst records of Christian persecution. Somalia is ranked below North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan, respectively.
Somalia has been a failed state for the last 18 years. The current U.N.-backed government, supported by 4,300 African Union peacekeepers, is struggling to maintain its control of a few blocks of the capital.
Also in early May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recognized Somalia’s religious intolerance problem and placed it on the group’s watch list of countries that should be closely monitored for severe religious freedom violations.