Hargeisa, 6 July 2009– Islamic extremists have beheaded two young boys in Somalia because their Christian father refused to divulge information about a church leader, and the killers are searching Kenya’s refugee camps to do the same to the boys’ father.
Before taking his Somali family to a Kenyan refugee camp in April, 55-year-old Musa Mohammed Yusuf himself was the leader of an underground church in Yonday village, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Kismayo in Somalia. He had received instruction in the Christian faith from Salat Mberwa.
Militants from the Islamic extremist group al Shabaab entered Yonday village on Feb. 20, went to Yusuf’s house and interrogated him on his relationship with Mberwa, leader of a fellowship of 66 Somali Christians who meet at his home at an undisclosed city. Yusuf told them he knew nothing of Mberwa and had no connection with him. The Islamic extremists left but said they would return the next day.
“Immediately when they left, I decided to flee my house for Kismayo, for I knew for sure they were determined to come back,” Yusuf said.
At noon the next day, as his wife was making lunch for their children in Yonday, the al Shabaab militants showed up. Batula Ali Arbow, Yusuf’s wife, recalled that their youngest son, Innocent, told the group that their father had left the house the previous day.
The Islamic extremists ordered her to stop what she was doing and took hold of three of her sons – 11-year-old Abdi Rahaman Musa Yusuf, 12-year-old Hussein Musa Yusuf and Abdulahi Musa Yusuf, 7. Some neighbors came and pleaded with the militants not to harm the three boys. Their pleas landed on deaf ears.
“I watched my three boys dragged away helplessly as my youngest boy was crying,” Arbow said. “I knew they were going to be slaughtered. Just after some few minutes I heard a wailing cry from Abdulahi running towards the house. I could not hold my breath. I only woke up with all my clothes wet. I knew I had fainted due to the shock.”
With the help of neighbors, Arbow said, she buried the bodies of her two children the following day.
In Kismayo, Yusuf received the news that two of his sons had been killed and that the Islamic militants were looking for him, and he left on foot for Mberwa’s home. It took him a month and three days to reach him, and the Christian fellowship there raised travel funds for him to reach a refugee camp in Kenya.
Later that month his family met up with him at the refugee camp.When the family fled Somalia, they were compelled to leave their 80-year-old grandmother behind and her whereabouts are unknown. Since arriving at the Kenyan refugee camp, the family still has no shelter, though fellow Christians are erecting one for them. Yusuf’s family lives each day without shoes, a mattress or shelter.
But Arbow said she has no wish to return.
“I do not want to go back to Somalia – I don’t want to see the graves of my children,” she said amid sobs.
Mberwa said that Arbow is often deep in thought, at times in a disturbingly otherworldly way.
Western security services see the al Shabaab ranks, reportedly filled with foreign jihadists, as a proxy for the Islamic extremist al-Qaeda group in Somalia. If the plight of Christians in Somalia is horrific – some are slaughtered, others scarred from beatings – the situation of Somali Christians in refugee camps is fast becoming worse than a matter of open discrimination.
“We have nowhere to run to,” Mberwa told Compass. “The al Shabaab are on our heads, while our Muslim brothers are also discriminating against us. Indeed even here in the refugee camp we are not safe. We need a safe haven elsewhere.”
He said that in April three al Shabaab militants were arrested by Kenyan security agents at Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab and taken to Garissa, Kenya’s North Eastern Province headquarters. But local provincial administrators denied any knowledge of such arrests.
“I don’t know” is all Dadaab District Officer Evans Kyule could say when asked about the arrests.
In Naivasha, Kenya, 19 Somali extremists were arrested last month and are scheduled to appear in a Nairobi court tomorrow, according to Kenyan television network.
Al-Shabaab militants have waged a vicious war against the fragile government of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. In a show of power in the capital city stronghold of Mogadishu, last week hard-line Islamic insurgents sentenced four young men each to amputation of a hand and a foot as punishment for robbery.
After mosques announced when the amputations would take place, the extremists carried them out by machete in front of about 300 people on Thursday (June 25) at a military camp. It was the first such double amputation in Mogadishu by the rebels, who follow strict sharia (Islamic law) in the parts of south Somalia that they control.
The rebel militants’ strict practices have shocked many Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims, though residents give the insurgents credit for restoring order to regions they control.
Al Shabaab militants are battling Ahmed’s government for control of Mogadishu while fighting government-allied, moderate Islamist militia in the provinces. In the last 18 years of violence in Somalia, a two-and-a-half year Islamist insurgency has killed more than 18,000 civilians, uprooted 1 million people, allowed piracy to flourish offshore, and spread security fears round the region.
Somalia’s government, which controls little more than a few blocks of Mogadishu, has declared a state of emergency and appealed for foreign intervention, including help from Somalia’s neighbors. Kenya recently has stepped up patrols along her common border with Somalia, vowing to respond militarily should militants make any incursions. At the same time, al Shabaab militants have warned that they would invade Kenya should the military patrols persist.
Nearly Losing a Son
On Oct. 7, 2008, al shabaab militia attacked the 28-year-old son of Mberwa in Sinai village, on the outskirts of Mogadishu. They interrogated Mberwa Abdi about the whereabouts of his father, maintaining that they had information that incriminated him as the leader of a Christian group.
Abdi denied having any knowledge of his father’s faith, and the Islamist extremists took Abdi out of the village and threatened to kill him. Covering his eyes and tying his hands behind him as he knelt down, they began beating his back with a gun. Abdi remained silent. The militants fired at his left side near the shoulder, and when Abdi fell they left him for dead.
On hearing the sound of the gunshot, neighbors ran to the scene and found Abdi still alive. They rushed him to Keysany Hospital in Mogadishu, where he underwent surgery.
Salat Mberwa received information from neighbors that his son had been killed on Nov. 1, 2008 by al Shabaab extremists, and that his body was in Keysany Hospital. Later he heard that his son was in a coma and sent 2,500 Kenyan shillings (US$35) for medical care. He also arranged for his wife and two youngest children to flee, knowing that they were the next target. They reached a refugee camp in Kenya in mid-December of last year.
After a month, Abdi was discharged from the hospital and arrived in the same refugee camp on Jan. 8. Medicins San Frontiers provided medicine for the ailing Abdi. Abdi bears the scars of bullet wounds on his body, and he still looks ill.
Asked why he denied his father’s Christian faith, Abdi said Christians are hunted like wild beasts.
“Everybody is afraid of this militia group and always tries to play things safe,” he said. “There is urgent need to help Christians in Somalia to get out as soon as possible, before they are wiped out.”
Salat Mberwa said he is concerned about the way Christians are being mistreated in the refugee camp.
“The Muslims cannot come to our aid in case one of us gets into a problem,” he said. “They always tell us, ‘You are Christians and we cannot help you. Let your religion help you.’”
While thankful for aid from Christian groups in Nairobi, Mberwa lamented that aid agencies and denominational associations have not employed Christian refugees in the camp, though many are qualified as drivers, electricians, carpenters and educators.