A military court in Somalia has convicted two foreign extremists for fighting alongside terrorist group al-Shabab.
The court in Mogadishu sentenced Darren Anthony Byrnes from Britain and Ahmad Mustakim bin Abdul Hamid from Malaysia to 15 years in jail for being members of al-Shabab and entering the country illegally.
They are the first foreign extremists in Somalia to be convicted for al-Shabab membership, court officials said.
Prosecutors said Abdul Hamid and Byrnes came to Somalia to support al-Shabab and "destroy" and "shed blood."
A lawyer for the two, Mohamed Warsame Mohamed, said the men denied being members of al-Shabab and claimed to have come to Somalia to visit relatives and friends.
He said he would file an appeal if Abdul Hamid and Byrnes chose to do so.
No witnesses supporting the Somali government's case testified in court, Mohamed said. Instead, he said, the government relied on accounts by people who gave testimonies in absentia and an alleged confession of al-Shabab membership by the defendants.
Abdul Hamid and Byrnes admit they have been to areas controlled by al-Shabab, he said, but they deny becoming members of the militant group.
"In my opinion, relying on documents is insufficient to give them a 15-year jail term," Mohamed told VOA Somali.
Abdul Hamid traveled from Yemen and entered the country in 2009. The court said he fought for al-Shabab in at least four clashes. He also allegedly offered the group first aid and health services.
Byrnes entered Somalia through Kenya in 2010 and allegedly worked with Bilal al-Berjawi, a known al-Shabab and al-Qaida operative from Britain who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012 outside Mogadishu, according to court documents.
Byrnes had fought alongside al-Shabab in Mogadishu before the militants were dislodged from the capital in August 2011. At the time, Byrnes was also involved in an al-Shabab plot to attack France, the court said.
Authorities in Somalia's Puntland region arrested the men in April 2019 as they tried to leave for Yemen on a boat, officials said.
Brigadier General Abdullahi Bule Kamay, the lead prosecutor of the case, said the men came to Somalia to kill people.
"One of them came from one of the developed countries in the world. … If he is spreading Islam, why did he not do that in the U.K.?" Kamay asked. "He came to Somalia to shed blood."
Kamay described the Malaysian as an "aggressor" who came to Somalia to "destroy."
Al-Shabab has several hundred foreign fighters from around the world, experts believe. Most of the foreign extremists are from East Africa, but some are from as far away as Britain, the United States and Asia. One of the group's main commanders is Jehad Serwan Mostafa, the highest-ranking American jihadist fighting overseas.