Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government has condemned the execution of two men Monday by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants and says al-Shabab murdered innocent civilians.
Somali government spokesman Farhan Asanyo says the two Somali men executed by a firing squad in the capital Mogadishu had no ties to the government or to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as al-Shabab alleged.
Asanyo says the men were innocent Somalis falsely accused and murdered by al-Shabab militants. The spokesman charged that al-Shabab often targets people without evidence of any wrongdoing.
The executions were carried in front of hundreds of spectators after an al-Shabab-run court found one man guilty of working as spy for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia and the other of providing intelligence to the CIA.
Al-Shabab officials said the pair admitted their crimes before being sentenced to death.
Al-Shabab is the most powerful of several Islamist insurgent groups attempting to overthrow Somalia's transitional federal government and force the withdrawal of 5,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers from Mogadishu.
The militant group, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Australia, is considered to be a proxy group for al-Qaida.
Two weeks ago, one of al-Qaida's top operatives in the region, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, was reportedly killed in a U.S. Special Forces operation in southern Somalia. U.S. counter-terrorism officials believe Nabhan was also a senior al-Shabab official, who provided a link between the Somali group and the al-Qaida leadership based in Pakistan.
An al-Shabab representative in the Banadir region, which includes Mogadishu, told reporters that the man executed for spying for the CIA was thought to be responsible for the information that led to the death of Nabhan.
Days after the U.S. raid, twin suicide car bombings rocked the African Union base in Mogadishu, killing more than 20 people. Al-Shabab said it carried out the attack in retaliation for the American military strike on its members.
The al-Shabab-led insurgency began after Ethiopian troops, with U.S. support, militarily intervened in Somalia in 2006 to oust the Islamic Courts Union from power and install the transitional government in Mogadishu.
Early this year, Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia and the government elected a new Islamist president. But al-Shabab and other insurgent groups have rejected the government as a western puppet. The focus of the insurgents has now shifted to African Union peacekeeping troops, whom the government is dependent on to keep from being toppled.
A combination of violence and a prolonged drought has left three million people, half of Somalia's population, in need of food aid and millions more displaced.