More beheadings in Somalia reported

WASHINGTON (BP)--Four more Christians have been beheaded in Somalia, according to the Washington-based human rights organization International Christian Concern.

The four Christians had been working for a non-governmental organization that aids orphans in southern Somalia. The Islamic extremist group al Shabaab, which has ties to al-Qaida, "kidnapped and eventually beheaded the Christians after they refused to renounce their faith," International Christian Concern reported Aug. 11.

According to the ICC report:

"On August 4, a junior [al Shabaab] militant notified all the families of the victims that the four Christians had been beheaded for apostasy. He described the Christians as promoters of 'fitna,' a Muslim term for religious discord. The militant, who called himself 'Seiful Islam' ('the Sword of Islam'), told the families that the bodies will not be given to them 'as Somalia does not have cemeteries for infidels.'

"One eyewitness account said, 'All the four apostates were given an opportunity to return to Islam to be released but they all declined the generous offer.'"

Earlier this year, seven other Somalis were beheaded, along with two sons of a village church leader.

According to Compass Direct News, a California-based organization that also reports on incidents of persecution:

-- The seven Somalis were publicly beheaded July 10 in the town of Bladoa for being deemed "Christians" and "spies" by al Shabaab (which means "the Youth" in Arabic).

-- The two sons of a church leader were beheaded Feb. 21. Their father, Musa Mohammed Yusuf, 55, formerly led an underground church in the village of Yonday. He and his wife and a third son subsequently took refuge in Kenya.

Somalia's Christians comprise less than 1 percent of the African nation's 9.8 million people.

After the seven beheadings, the Associated Press noted, "Punishments such as stoning, amputations and beheadings are historically rare in Somalia, which traditionally practices moderate Sufi Islam. But a more extremist form of jihadi Salafist Islam with its roots in Saudi Arabia has taken root during the chaotic warfare of recent years, strengthened by a recent influx of hundreds of foreign fighters."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to address the issue of religious freedom when she met with Somali President Sheik Sharif Ahmed in Nairobi during her recent trip to Africa.

USCIRF chair Leonard Leo, in a July 30 letter to Clinton, noted:

"For the first time, USCIRF placed Somalia on its Watch List in 2009.... [I]n the absence of the rule of law, freedom of religion or belief, like all other human rights, is circumscribed by insurgents, warlords, self-appointed officials, local authorities, and prevailing societal attitudes.

"While the international community is focused on piracy, terrorism, and the security situation in Somalia, problems of religious extremism and the rule of law must also be addressed. USCIRF believes that improving freedom of religion and related human rights and governance will help to address many of the problems in Somalia."

Media outlets such as the Associated Press did not report whether Clinton raised such issues.

However, Clinton described Ahmed's moderate Islamist transitional government as "the best hope we've had for some time," The New York Times reported. The Times described Ahmed as "a former religious teacher who rose to popularity in Somalia by helping rescue kidnapped children." Ahmed is not a warlord, one Clinton aide told The Times. "But he's shown the ability to lead. And he's shown the ability to survive."

Clinton promised Ahmed more aid, training and weaponry for battling the insurgents, but The Times noted that the challenge is daunting because the government "controls no more than a few city blocks in a country the size of Texas, with extremist Islamist groups, like the Shabaab, in charge of much of the rest."

Clinton said Al Shabaab intends for Somalia to become "a future haven for global terrorism" -- "a base from which to influence and even infiltrate surrounding countries and launch attacks against countries far and near."

After Clinton's visit, the Voice of America reported Aug. 11, Islamic insurgents rejected overtures from Ahmed to stop the violence and begin peace negotiations.

USCIRF, in its 2009 report, expressed a degree of hope. Ahmed announced in February 2009 that sharia law would become the basis for law in Somalia, but he has said it should respect human rights and women's rights. This may help in "undercutting support for the militias," USCIRF stated. "Reports indicate that Somalis are tired of fighting and that popular support for al Shabaab has fallen."


Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.