2 Somali Radio Journalists Slain

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 12, 2007

NAIROBI, Aug. 11 -- Two prominent Somali radio journalists were killed in Mogadishu on Saturday, the first by gunmen in the morning and the second, the radio station's co-owner, in an explosion hours later as he returned from the reporter's funeral.

The killings targeted Horn Afrik radio, which has been criticized by the Ethiopian-backed Somali government as well as hard-line members of an insurgency that has been battling government and Ethiopian forces for months.

"This is a tragedy," Ali Iman Sharmarke, the co-owner and co-director of Horn Afrik, said about the reporter's death just before his own, according to the Reuters news agency. "It demonstrates the conditions that Somali reporters are working under. The perpetrators want to silence our voices in order to commit their crimes."

The reporter, Mahad Ahmed Elmi, who hosted a popular talk show called "Hello! Hello!," was shot at point-blank range about 7:30 a.m. near Horn Afrik's offices in the capital. He died on the way to the hospital.

Many Mogadishu residents attended his funeral in the afternoon, as did Sharmarke and other journalists, despite fears that they might be targeted, a local journalist said.

A few hours later, the car in which Sharmarke was riding struck an explosive device in the road. A Reuters reporter was slightly injured.

The attacks occurred in the context of a broader campaign against local reporters in a city that has again become one of the most dangerous in the world.

On Friday, Somali police raided the offices of the privately owned and popular Shabelle radio, forcing it off the air for the third time since January. Eight journalists were detained for several hours.

During a crackdown on insurgents by Ethiopian forces in April, Horn Afrik's offices were heavily shelled, but journalists continued reporting as several hundred thousand people fled Mogadishu for the countryside.

Horn Afrik, founded in 1999, is considered the first independent radio station in Somalia. Though its staff is mostly drawn from Mogadishu's dominant Hawiye clan, which tends to oppose the government, it has often aired stories critical of Hawiye leaders.

The station's reporters also have aired stories critical of all parties to the conflict: the current government, the Ethiopian forces and the insurgents.

"They broke the lines of clan," a journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They are the eyes of the Somali people. They are very brave people."

It was unclear who carried out the attacks Saturday.

After a decade and a half of chaos under the rule of warlords, an Islamic movement took control of much of Somalia in June 2006. In December, Ethiopia invaded the country to oust the Islamic movement, whose fighters now form part of the insurgency. Ethiopia, closely allied with the United States, supports the unpopular Somali government.

Elmi's radio show focused heavily on the thousands of civilians caught in the fighting in Mogadishu, where mortar attacks, roadside bombings and shootings are frequent. Saturday's show was to have been broadcast from Medina Hospital, where many victims of the violence are being treated.

"He used to call different areas in the city and say, 'Hi, how did you spend your night? How do you do?' " a colleague said. "He talked to normal people in the streets. . . . He was my friend."

Both Horn Afrik and Shabelle went off the air temporarily Saturday to honor the deaths of their colleagues.

Special correspondent Mohamed Ibrahim in Mogadishu contributed to this report.

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