Residents in the Somali capital Mogadishu are expressing outrage and anger against Ethiopian troops in the capital, whom they say massacred at least 10 people, including a senior religious leader, inside a mosque on Sunday. Human rights groups say they fear the incident could dramatically strengthen the 15-month-old anti-Ethiopian insurgency and ignite more violence in a country that the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
According to eyewitness reports, the victims inside al-Hidaya Mosque in Mogadishu's Huriwa district were killed by Ethiopian troops on the second day of intense fighting, which left more than 80 people dead in the war-ravaged capital.
The witnesses allege that Ethiopian troops stormed the mosque on Sunday, shooting and killing Sheik Said Yahya, the mosque's most senior religious leader. Eyewitnesses say several others were also shot and killed, and a handful had their throats slit, after the Ethiopians accused them of supporting and training Islamist insurgents.
Mogadishu resident Mohamed Ali, 35, says the mosque killings have convinced him and many others that they must join the insurgency to end Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia. Ali says people now feel they must help in the fight against Ethiopian troops no matter the cost. He says there is also rising anger at Somalia's Ethiopia-backed secular transitional government for doing nothing to protect the country and its people.
The director of the London office of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, says even if Ethiopian troops had nothing to do with the killings in the mosque, they have committed human rights violations in the past and that has destroyed Ethiopia's credibility with Somalia's people.
"Certainly, we have documented in the past extrajudicial execution by both the TFG [transitional federal government] and Ethiopian forces," he said. "We have documented the aerial bombardment of parts of Mogadishu by Ethiopian forces. All this, of course, simply increases the anger of residents of Mogadishu, and the impact of these abuses is that it has actually made the problem of the insurgency much worse."
Ethiopia denies its troops have committed atrocities. The Somali government says military operations are conducted in self-defense, noting that Islamist-led insurgents often cause numerous civilian casualties by launching attacks at Ethiopian and government troops in heavily-populated areas.
Sources in Mogadishu say the Hidaya mosque, one of the largest in Mogadishu, may have been targeted by the Ethiopians because it had long served as a base for different Islamic groups, including al-Ittihad al-Islami, a militant Somali group the United States has labeled as a terror organization.
But the sources say in recent years, the Hidaya Mosque has been a place of worship for adherents of a mystical branch of Sunni Islam called Sufism. Most Somalis belong to the Sufi order, which has no ties to the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi movement embraced by members of al-Ittihad and its successor, the Shabab.
Since Ethiopia ousted Somalia's Islamist movement from power in December, 2006, the Shabab, which functioned as the military wing of the Islamist movement, has claimed responsibility for scores of Iraq-style attacks in the capital and elsewhere in Somalia and has urged militants from other countries to join the insurgency.