Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Five Pakistani Clerics Killed in Central Somalia

Five Pakistani preachers killed

From correspondents in Mogadishu
From: AFP August 13, 2009 5:47AM

GUNMEN have stormed a mosque in Somalia's central town of Galkayo and shot dead five Pakistani Muslim clerics after dawn prayers, officials and witnesses say.

They dragged the preachers out of the mosque and opened fire on them, said a police official in the town straddling Somalia's self-declared state of Puntland and Somalia proper.

"The five were from Pakistan," the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity,said overnight.

Authorities had launched a manhunt for the killers, he said.

It was unclear why the men, who arrived in Galkayo yesterday, were targeted.

Puntland's president Abdurahman Mohamed Farole condemned the killing as a "terrible incident. We are still investigating who was behind it".

The preachers belonged to a Muslim sect known as Tabliq, said Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Said, the spokesman of the Ahlu Sunna religious group which controls the area.

He said the sect "has never advocated violence" and termed their killing as "contrary to the teaching of Islam".

The Ahlu Sunna group rose to the limelight in late 2008 when they fought the radical Shebab militia, accusing them of fostering violence across Somalia. It also blamed the Shebab of killing religious scholars, elders, traders and other opponents, labelling their victims "enemies of Islam".

But the Shebab also condemned yesterday's murders.

"It is the worst thing in Somalia's history because killing of religious men is unknown among the Somali commuity," Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Dhere said in Mogadishu. "This attack was carried out by anti-Islamic elements."

Although Puntland has been spared much of the violence which has wracked other regions of the Horn of Africa state in the past 18 years, tensions have been on the rise lately. Last week, Puntland's information minister was killed by unknown attackers in Galkayo. The region is also a major hub for piracy that has turned the Gulf of Aden into the world's most dangerous waterway.

The bodies of the victims were placed in the mosque and talks were under way to determine where they should eventually be burried.

Puntland, which declared its semi-autonomous status in 1998, has also seen the abduction of journalists and other foreigners later freed upon payment of ransom.

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