Somalia’s most powerful Islamist insurgents, the Shabab, executed two teenage girls on Wednesday after deciding they were spies, setting off fears among residents, officials and witnesses said. The two teenagers — one 18, the other 14 — were shot by firing squad in the center of the town of Beledweyne, near the border with Ethiopia, witnesses said.
Pickup trucks with big loudspeakers drove into the town, ordering the residents to watch the execution. Residents were also told to switch off their cellphones and were warned not to take pictures, a prohibition that has been enforced at some Islamist executions in the past. “The teenage girls were executed in the regional headquarters at the center of the town. Some of the women who were watching fainted at the scene,” said Abukar Elmi, a witness. “This is a shocking event.”
The Shabab official in the town, Sheik Yusuf Ali Ugas, told local journalists that “the two girls were found guilty of spying for the Ethiopian government.” Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 to oust an Islamist movement that had taken control of much of the country, including the capital, Mogadishu. Thousands of Ethiopian soldiers remained in Somalia for the next three years before withdrawing, and some of the Somali government forces fighting the Shabab in the Beledweyne area are supported by the Ethiopian government. Mr. Ugas said the teenagers were not the only ones in Shabab custody, adding, “There are many people now in Shabab prisons in Beledweyne.”
He also sent a warning to Ethiopia, saying that the Shabab knew “all the informants serving for the Ethiopian government.” Townspeople argued that the two teenage girls were innocent. The girls, they said, were traveling away from their families when they were caught in a cross-fire just outside Beledweyne, where both government forces and the Shabab are positioned. Many Somalis try to reach Yemen and Saudi Arabia to find better opportunities there and escape from the violence in this country. “When the fighting started between the Shabab and the government forces just outside Beledweyne, the girls had to flee to the bush, where they were finally caught,” said a resident whose name was withheld for his safety. “I think they were executed because they were caught at the front line.”