The bodies of seven health workers and a civilian were found Thursday in a village north of Mogadishu, shocking residents, local authorities and elders said Friday.
"We found the dead bodies of the seven young health workers and a shop owner outside Golaley village near Balad district, 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu, a day after they were abducted by men in Somali military fatigues," Ahmed Mohamed Muse, a local elder, told VOA Somali.
It was not clear who was responsible for the killing, but local elders, including Muse, accused Somali government soldiers of being behind the attack.
"The abductors were government soldiers and they carried out the execution, apparently as revenge for the killing of nine soldiers by a roadside bomb on Tuesday," said Muse.
Qasim Ali Nur, Balad district commissioner, denied the accusation and instead laid blame on the militant group al-Shabab.
"We are still investigating the incident and the initial evidence we have is telling us that al-Shabab militants were behind the killing," Nur told VOA Somali.
He said the seven slain health workers were with the Zamzam foundation, a local aid group that focuses on health care, education, orphan care and peace building.
Colonel Abshir Maxamuud, a senior military official operating in the Middle Shabelle region where the incident occurred, also denied any involvement of government soldiers.
Omar Jamac, a spokesman for the aid group, confirmed to Reuters that seven of its health workers had been kidnapped from a center in Golaley village.
The executions shocked the residents of Balad town, triggering protests against what they called the “brutal execution of civilians."
The protesters, wearing red head bandannas, marched through main streets of the town Friday, calling on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"We are deeply saddened by the gruesome incident. All we demand is justice and fair investigation that finally results in justice for those murdered civil servants," Osman Muhumed, a protest organizer, told local media.
The federal government, the United Nations and international groups also condemned the incident.
U.N. Resident Humanitarian Coordinator Adam Abdelmoula said in a statement Thursday that he was shocked by the killings of the health workers. “Attacks against medical facilities and personnel are unacceptable and a breach of international humanitarian law and any common decency,” he said.
Abdelmoula who also is the deputy U.N. head in Somalia, called for a "transparent and thorough investigation" into the incident.
A statement from the Somali government said, "The government is sharing the pain with all Somalis and sends condolences to the families of those murdered."
The statement added that the government had ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
This incident came at a time when Somalia has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, drought and a locust invasion.
Ibrahim Mohamoud and Husein Dhaqane in Beledweyn, Somalia, contributed to this report.