Somali rebels have executed two men for adultery and murder, but the verdict prompted a battle between two insurgent factions that killed three of the gunmen, witnesses said.
It was the first time Hizbul Islam guerrillas had meted out the type of punishments that are usually associated with the more hardline al Shabaab rebel group, which the United States says is al Qaeda’s proxy in the failed Horn of Africa state.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s Western-backed government controls just a few strategic sites in Mogadishu.
Western security experts say the country has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the impoverished region and beyond.
The latest executions took place yesterday in Afgoye, where thousands of families uprooted by the violence are sheltering some 30 km (19 miles) southwest of the capital.
Hizbul Islam fighters summoned hundreds of residents to a field, where a rebel judge announced that the two men had confessed to murder and adultery. A woman who had confessed to fornication had been sentenced to 100 lashes, he added.
“This is their day of justice,” the judge, Osman Siidow Hasan, told the crowd. “We investigated and they confessed.”
But the reading of the sentence prompted an argument, and then a gun battle, between two Hizbul factions, residents said.
Rebels fight each other
“Three Hizbul Islam fighters died and five others were injured after they fought each other,” Halima Osman, an Afgoye shopkeeper, told Reuters in Mogadishu by telephone.
“Some wanted to delay the execution while the others insisted. They exchanged fire. The group that was against the execution was overpowered and chased away,” she said.
The punishments were then delivered, witnesses said. A relative of the murder victim was shot first as he lay on the floor, and then the second man was buried in a hole up to his chest and pelted with rocks until he died.
“I could not watch the shocking scene,” local man Ali Gabow told Reuters. “The lady who had been with the second man was only given 100 lashes because she said she had never married.”
Al Shabaab, and to a lesser extent Hizbul Islam, are fighting the government to impose their harsh interpretation of Islamic Sharia law across the drought-ravaged country.
Al Shabaab clerics have banned movies, dancing at weddings and playing or watching soccer in the areas under their control, as well as carrying out executions and amputations.
Fighting has killed 19 000 Somali civilians since the start of 2007 and driven another 1.5 million from their homes, triggering one of the world’s most acute humanitarian disasters.
The chaos has also spilled offshore, where Somali pirate gangs have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms targeting commercial shipping in the Indian Ocean and busy Gulf of Aden