Radical Somali Islamist group al-Shabab chopped off the right hands of two thieves Wednesday in Mogadishu as part of its implementation of Sharia law in areas under its control.  The act is an indication of the power the group has cemented over areas of the capital city.

The punishment was brazenly performed as a public demonstration.  A young man was also given 100 lashes for allegedly raping a young lady.

A judge for the Islamic court that handed down the sentences, Abu Hamza, says the two men were ordered to have their hands cut off in accordance with the teachings of the Koran.

The two were found guilty of breaking into homes and stealing items.

This form of strict interpretation of the Koran is viewed by many Somalis as an alien influence on their culture, which traditionally follows a more moderate form of Islam.  Al-Shabab is believed to have direct links with the international terrorist group al-Qaida.

Last month al-Shabab ordered that women living in the Somali Banadir region, which includes Mogadishu, must cover themselves completely in the full Islamic dresses known as abayas, a practice that is not customary for most Somali women.

The Islamist militant group controls much of southern Somalia as well as major portions of the capital Mogadishu, where it is trying to overthrow the Western-backed transitional federal government.

An African Union peacekeeping force of roughly 5,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are also deployed in Mogadishu to help protect certain sites, such as the presidential palace, the airstrip, and the seaport.

After a six-month rule in 2006 of the Islamic Courts Union, which partly included al-Shabab, a U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion forced the Islamist militants to regroup in its base of southern Somalia.  Al-Shabab has since strengthened its guerilla tactics and become increasingly radicalized.

The transitional federal government is headed by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who was once a leader of the Islamist insurgents.  He was elected in January as president in a deal backed by the international community, but rejected by many of the Islamist opposition forces.

Renewed clashes this week in Mogadishu have killed more than 20 people since Monday.