As one Somali journalist is buried, a top poet and comedian is slain

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — They buried Somali radio journalist Mohamed Mohamud Turyare on Monday, a week after he was killed by unknown gunmen near a mosque in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. On Monday night, killers struck again, this time shooting dead one of Somalia's famous poets and radio comedians, Warsame Shire Awale, near his Mogadishu home.

Awale, in his 60s, was the 18th Somalia media figure killed this year. Turyare, 22, of the Shabelle Media Network, died days before TV journalist, Ahmed Farah Sakin, 25, was shot dead by unknown assailants in northern Somalia.

Dozens more journalists and media personalities have been injured in the deadliest year on record for Somali journalists. In 2009, the next deadliest year, nine were killed.

“In Mogadishu, the atmosphere is very fearful and people wonder how they can continue doing their jobs. Many have stopped. They're afraid of being killed,” said Rashid Abdullahi Haydar of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a phone interview. Haydar was among the hundreds of mourners who laid Turyare to rest at the city's Al Jazeera cemetery Monday.

“Families are afraid too. They are saying, 'Please stop this [journalism] because you have no rights and no protection.' It's very precarious working conditions we have right now.”

As Somalia makes a delicate political transition, a new president has been elected and Mogadishu is more peaceful and stable than it has been in decades. Yet the rash of assassinations of Somali journalists continues, evidence of the country's  ongoing security problems and the new government's impotence against targeted killings and suicide bombings.

In September, three journalists were killed and four were injured when suicide bombers attacked a cafe in central Mogadishu that was a popular hangout for news reporters and civil servants.

Al Shabab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group that has been pushed by African Union forces from urban strongholds, is thought to be responsible for a number of the attacks. But many believe that powerful warlords or businessmen may be behind some of the killings.

Awale was well-known for his role on Radio Kulmiye lampooning Al Shabab. He was the second Radio Kulmiye comedian to be shot dead by gunmen. Abdi Jeylani Marshale, who performed on the same program, was killed in August.

“He was well known in Somalia's literature and culture. He was a musician and he was an intellectual,” Haydar said, describing Awale.

Haydar said Awale and others on the show  had received death threats by phone in recent months. He said the journalists' union believed that like Marshale, Awale was assassinated for poking fun of Al Shabab.

“They were calling them all the time, saying, 'Why are you insulting the insurgency?''' Haydar said.

Awale, long famous as a playwright and musician, was a member of the  musical group Onkod that performed in Mogadishu before the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Later, he was known for his romantic and patriotic songs and he has since written songs calling on people to reject violence and to join the police force instead of militant groups. The Somali journalists' union has called on the government to carry out a full investigation into the killing of Awale and all other media workers.

Haydar said the government appeared to have no power to protect targeted journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, ranks Somalia as Africa's most dangerous country to be a journalist.

Radio Kulmiye's website ran a recent commentary saying that if not for the brave reporting of Somali journalists, the world would not have known about the country's suffering during more than two decades of chaos and violence.

“All Somali journalists and the general public as well as the international media and human rights watchdogs and the world community at large agree that the vast majority of Somali journalists are targeted in attempt to silence the only independent, neutral voice from a country mired by 21 years of chaos and lawlessness,” read the article, published Oct. 22.

It followed a polemic published Oct. 11 in Britain's Guardian newspaper by London-based Somali Jamal Osman, arguing that many journalists were killed because they were corrupt and accepted payments to write good things about certain politicians or businessmen.

“The profession needs to be cleaned up. The media owners should do it to save the lives of their employees,” he wrote. Somali journalists staged protests in Mogadishu condemning the article.


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— Robyn Dixon, reporting from Johannesburg 





Somali troops take key port of Kismayo after Al Shabab rebels retreat

Somali troops and their foreign allies occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as an main source of revenue
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somali troops and their foreign allies on Monday occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as a main source of revenue.

A Kenyan military spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, said Kenyan forces had also deployed in the southern Somali city. The troops moved in after fighters from Al Shabab, a militia linked to Al Qaeda, pulled out following Friday's beach assault and airstrikes by the Kenyan military. Oguna said further airstrikes were carried out over the weekend to destroy militant bases.

The Kenyan troops are part of a 17,000-member African Union force in Somalia to help the country's weak government confront a long-standing rebellion by Al Shabab.

Residents described a tense atmosphere Monday as troops entered, with fears that Al Shabab would strike back, but said the militants offered no resistance.

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Suicide blasts at Mogadishu cafe reportedly kill 15

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Suicide bombers set off at least two explosions at a popular restaurant in Mogadishu late Thursday, killing about 15 people including journalists and two police officers, authorities said.

The Village Restaurant is owned by Ahmed Jama, a British Somali profiled in The Times last month who has several restaurants all with the same name. The one hit Thursday is located in central Mogadishu, opposite the National Theater -- itself the target of a suicide bombing in April -- and is popular with Somali journalists and civil servants.

No group had claimed responsibility for the blasts. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militia Al Shabab, which has carried out many bombings in the capital in the past, did not issue an immediate commented.

Some witnesses reported two blasts, while others said there were three. Witnesses described a scene of mayhem, with blood spattered across the floor, the bodies of dead and wounded people strewn among the plastic chairs and cups.

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Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Sudan and South Sudan reach deal on oil transit dispute


MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Uneasy neighbors Sudan and South Sudan reached a deal on oil transit fees Friday, a day after a U.N. Security Council deadline passed for them to reach an agreement or face sanctions, it was announced Saturday.

South Sudan recently marked a year of independence from Sudan, but things had gone so badly in recent months that there seemed little cause to celebrate. The countries tilted dangerously toward war earlier this year after South Sudan shut down oil production in January over the countries’ acrimonious dispute on oil transit fees.

The shutdown severely damaged both sides. As oil dried up, the economies of the countries faltered; consumer prices rocketed, shortages set in and their currencies fell.

While the two sides have now agreed on a transit price, an intractable dispute over territory and their shared border was set aside until late September.

African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki told reporters that the countries would discuss the steps to be taken so that oil companies could resume production.

Sudanese officials confirmed the deal but said it would not take effect until border security matters were settled. Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting anti-government rebels in Sudanese territory,  while South Sudan says Sudan is guilty of supporting militias in its country.

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Bomb at Mogadishu theater kills 10, including Somali sports officials

The Al Qaeda-linked Somali rebel militia Al Shabab claimed credit for a bomb attack n Mogadishu that killed 10 people, an apparent attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali
REPORTING FROM MOGADISHU, SOMALIA AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- It was supposed to be a symbol of hope: The newly reopened National Theater in Mogadishu was the most potent sign of the peaceful change that has swept the Somali capital since Al Shabab militants fled the city in August.

It turned into a scene of bloody chaos Wednesday when a bombing killed 10 people. The attack apparently was aimed at assassinating Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali, who was attending a ceremony with many officials of his Western-backed Transitional Federal Government, or TFG.

Two of the country's top sports officials, Somali Olympic Committee President Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur, were killed in the blast.

Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, boasting in a tweet that the "large explosion brings the show to an end leaving scores of MP's (sic) TFG officials and intelligence personnel dead." Both sides in the conflict tend to exaggerate casualties caused by their attacks.

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Widow of London Underground bomber sought for alleged Kenya plot

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Kenyan police are hunting for the British widow of one of the 2005 London Underground suicide bombers, whom they suspect of involvement in a terror plan to blow up luxury hotels or restaurants in the East African nation, according to the Associated Press and major London newspapers.

The woman is also suspected of helping to finance terrorist groups, including Al Shabab, the Somalia militia linked to Al Qaeda, the news reports said.

The AP, quoting an unnamed top Kenyan police official, said that fingerprint evidence indicated that Samantha Lewthwaite, 28, stayed for several weeks last year in an upscale Mombasa house alleged to be linked to a terror cell. She fled last December after being briefly interviewed -- but not arrested -- by Kenyan police. She reportedly convinced them she was a tourist.

Lewthwaite, allegedly traveling on a fake passport, is the widow of Jermaine Lindsay, a suicide bomber who killed 26 people on a Piccadilly line train in London in 2005, one of four simultaneous suicide bombings.

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Recruitment of Somali children for war on rise, rights group says


This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Sixteen boys waited on a dusty football field in Hamar Weyne district of Mogadishu, Somalia, to play a match. They had put their names down the day before and expected another team would turn up to play.

Instead, a group of militants drove up on that December day in 2010. They were from the Al Shabab organization, linked with Al Qaeda and known for recruiting child soldiers as cannon fodder.

"They were armed with AK-47's and told us that playing football was not helpful and they would turn us into jihadis. They took 16 of us between the ages of 10 and 16," one 14-year-old Mogadishu boy told Human Rights Watch.

The rights group released a report Monday on the forced recruitment of children in Somalia ahead of an international conference on the conflict in London on Thursday. The report says all parties in Somalia's long war have pressed children into the fight and that recruitment has increased in recent years. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reported that about 2,000 children were forced to fight in 2010 alone.

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Oxfam criticizes approach to Somalia, calls for humanitarian focus

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The international aid agency Oxfam said in a report Wednesday that Western policy on Somalia had failed and called for a new approach emphasizing humanitarian aid instead of counter-terrorism and military intervention.

The organization said the focus of the United States and other Western countries had failed to build a stable country and only exacerbated the country’s problems.

The agency called on leaders of 40 countries and representatives of international agencies meeting in London on Thursday to discuss Somalia to develop a better policy that took into account the humanitarian cost of military action in Somalia –- adding that global players, including the United Nations, have failed to do so in the past.

“While the conflict in Somalia remains a source of legitimate concerns for regional and international security, policies focused more on these concerns than on the short- and long-term needs of Somali people have not worked, inadvertently fueling the conflict and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis,” the agency said in a report released on the eve of the London conference.

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Somali militants reportedly join forces with Al Qaeda [Video]

A militant Islamic group linked to suicide attacks and bombings in Somalia officially has joined Al Qaeda, according to a monitoring service translation of a video message from its leader.

U.S. officials have long thought that the group, Shabab, was strengthening its ties with Al Qaeda. In July, U.S. intelligence said that Al Qaeda forces in Yemen had provided weapons, fighters and explosives training to Shabab, which they cited as signs of a widening alliance of terrorist groups.

Shabab has tried to ensure that Somalia remains chaotic because that helps secure its role as a base for its global struggle against the West, The Times reported in October. It has wreaked havoc in Somalia by barring aid to famine-stricken people and stopping them from fleeing, human rights groups say.

The Times' Robyn Dixon shared a vivid account of Shabab recruitment from a boy named Abdi. His story could not be independently verified, but was consistent with other accounts of Shabab training:

They were taught how to blow things up, make explosive devices and lay booby traps on roads. The training terrified him.

Spies in the camp listened for the whispers of defection. There was a fence, and guards. The commanders were harsh ...

"If they caught you talking about running away, they would kill you," Abdi said. "They said: 'You have to die. You have to sacrifice your life because these guys killed your father and mother. They will kill your people, so before that happens you have to sacrifice yourself and kill them.' "


A young Somali lured into a life of death

Shabab militia bars food aid, rights groups say

Somalia bombing points to militants' grim goals

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: A Shabab leader reportedly gives “glad tidings” that the group had joined Al Qaeda. Credit: Aaron Y. Zelin


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