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Somali Journalists Denounce Military Attack on Press

  • Michael Onyiego

Somali journalists said Thursday they were deliberately targeted by government forces during the bombardment of a press-conference in Mogadishu. The United Nations-backed transitional government has not responded to the accusations.

On Thursday, the Mogadishu-based National Union of Somali Journalists condemned the attack on a press-conference being held by Islamist group al-Shabab which killed an estimated 20 people and wounded over 30 others including eight journalists on Tuesday.

The attack took place at a police training facility in northern Mogadishu, recently captured by al-Shabab. The rebel group was holding a press conference to assert its control over the newly won Abdiaziz neighborhood when explosions, reportedly from mortars and rocket propelled grenades, struck the building.

Local media in Mogadishu have reported the United Nations-backed Transitional Federal Government was behind the attack. According to the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, Omar Faruk Osman, one of the injured journalists was threatened by government troops just before the press conference.

"When they took over the police school al-Shabab invited the media to come and cover the press conference that they were holding in the school," he said. "One of the journalists who was wounded told our union that the problem in that time was that when they were crossing from the government side to this al-Shabab controlled area they were warned by the government soldiers telling them, 'you need to be very careful. Anything can happen to you because you are going to cover that press conference.," he added.

Osman denounced the attack, which he said was an attempt to manipulate the news and punish journalists perceived to be sympathetic to the forces of al-Shabab. Osman added that the attack was intentional pointing out that no other fighting in the neighborhood occurred before or after the blasts.

The capital has been experiencing several days of violence as the government and African Union peacekeepers continue to battle al-Shabab militants for territory and power.

Thursday marks Somalia's 50th anniversary since independence from Britain and Italy in 1960. Despite the occasion, residents in Mogadishu have been banned from celebration by Islamic groups which control large portions of the city.

The decree came Wednesday from Hizbul Islam, an armed Islamist faction which also banned music as "un-Islamic" in April.

Osman dismissed the announcement as an empty threat, saying the moratorium on the celebration was an attempt to reassert the authority of Hizbul Islam, which has been beset by internal strife over the past weeks.

There were signs of defiance in Mogadishu as Radio Shabelle continued to broadcast independence celebrations to the city. Radio Shabelle, which recently relocated from the rebel-controlled Bakara Market to a government-controlled area, said it was no longer afraid of the rebel group.

Radio Mogadishu, run by the Transitional Federal Government, and Radio Bar-kulan, run by the United Nations in Nairobi, also continued their celebration of independence over the airwaves.