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Somali Islamists cut off thieves’ hands, feet

Associated Press / June 26, 2009
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NAIROBI - In a brazen show of power in Somalia’s capital, Islamist rebels punished four men convicted of stealing cellphones and other items by cutting off a hand and a foot each before hundreds of onlookers who gathered for the bloody spectacle.

The punishments were the latest sign that insurgents wield the real power in the lawless African nation, where the embattled, Western-backed government is struggling to survive. Yesterday’s amputations were all the more audacious because they were carried out in Mogadishu, where the administration still has nominal control.

“The men were bleeding and crying when the man cut their hands and feet off with a long knife,’’ said one witness, Liban Ali, among hundreds of people who gathered at a military camp in Mogadishu to watch the punishments. Another witness said a medical team was there to immediately treat the men.

The men were estimated to be between 18 and 25.

The Shariah court that carried out the sentences is run by al-Shabab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s government and install a strict form of Islam. Hundreds of foreign fighters from countries including Pakistan and Yemen are reinforcing the group’s ranks.

The United States considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda, which al-Shabab denies. The group controls much of Somalia.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has decided to bolster efforts to support Somalia’s embattled government by providing money for weapons, US officials said yesterday.