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Ex al-Shabab Official Executed for Journalists' Killings

  • Mohamed Olad
  • Aline Barros

Hassan Hanafi Haji, a former journalist accused of belonging to al-Shabab and involvement in the killings of five Somali journalists, is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad, at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu on April 11, 2016.

Hassan Hanafi Haji, a former journalist accused of belonging to al-Shabab and involvement in the killings of five Somali journalists, is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad, at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu on April 11, 2016.

Somalia's government on Monday executed a former journalist accused of helping al-Shabab militants kill at least five other journalists in Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011.

Officials and witnesses say a firing squad executed Hassan Hanafi Haji at a police academy in Mogadishu. Haji was extradited from Kenya last year at the request of the Somali government.

Abdulahi Hussein Mohamed, deputy judge of the military court, talked to the media after the execution and said the former journalist had a fair trial and finally faced justice.

"He has been going under court process since earlier 2015. So, now with all the evidences and his confession the justice had been done," Mohamed said.

Haji acted as al-Shabab's liaison officer to the media and pressured journalists to report according to the group's media rules, which included avoiding stories related to military setbacks. He was known to threaten journalists and radio stations if they did not comply.

He later worked for Radio Andalus, al-Shabab’s official media outlet.

"He tasted the pain he inflicted [on] our colleagues. Justice should not only be done but it must be seen to be done," said a prominent local journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Hassan Hanafi Haji is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, April 11, 2016.

Hassan Hanafi Haji is tied to a wooden post as he is prepared to be executed by firing squad at a police academy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, April 11, 2016.

Admitted to involvement, then recanted

Haji was one of the few suspects prosecuted by the Somali government following years of criticism by rights groups who urged the authorities to do more.

The former journalist was captured in Kenya in 2014. In an interview aired on Somalia’s state TV in February, he admitted to direct involvement in the murder of several journalists and knowledge of other journalists’ killings.

But last month Haji claimed he made the confessions after being tortured, according to a leaked audio recording of a phone call.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for media workers. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 25 journalists have been murdered in Somalia since 2007.

Haji’s execution comes two days after two other members of al-Shabab’s militant group were also executed by firing squad for the murder of a journalists killed in a car bomb last year.

Security forces and others inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, April 11, 2016.

Security forces and others inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, April 11, 2016.

Bombing in Mogadishu

On Monday, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack at the local government headquarters in Mogadishu. At least three people were killed and five others were wounded.

"We are behind the governor HQ attack," Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.

Witnesses said two children were among those killed.

"The explosion was caused by a car loaded with explosives," police officer Ibrahim Mohamed said.

The United Nations mission in Somalia said it "strongly condemns" the attack.

VOA's Somali service contributed to this report

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