Sabahi (Washington, DC)

Somalia: Somali Village in Shock After Al-Shabaab Opens Fire On Wedding Party

Mogadishu — Residents of Bo'o say a dark cloud has descended upon their small village ever since three suspected al-Shabaab gunmen opened fire on women leaving a wedding party there last week.

The party was a traditional celebration to mark seven days of marriage and was attended only by women.

"It was a joyful day for the relatives and friends of the couple, as it should be when there is a wedding, and there had been no problems [with al-Shabaab until the attack]," said Ugas Hirey, a 35-year-old Bo'o resident. "We cannot figure out what changed; we were shocked by the gunshots and its ugly aftermath."

The al-Shabaab controlled village is located about 30 kilometres from Hiran's regional capital of Beledweyne, which was liberated by allied forces in December 2011 and has since rebuffed several attempts by the group to reclaim the city.

According to tribal elder Jama Ahmed the gunmen are believed to be between the ages of 16 and 19. He said they waited for the celebration to end and shot the women as they were leaving the venue, killing the groom's aunt and wounding two other women.

The wounded victims were immediately rushed to Beledweyne Hospital for treatment.

One of the victims lost a lot of blood and was in critical condition when she arrived at the hospital, Beledweyne Hospital director Ahmed Khalif told Sabahi. Both women are now in stable condition and receiving the necessary treatment.

Residents abided by all of al-Shabaab's rules

Residents told Sabahi they were afraid for their safety and do not understand why al-Shabaab targeted the wedding party since it was held according to the militant's rules. Many declined to speak on the record for fear of retaliation from the militant group.

Under al-Shabaab rules, brides are forbidden from wearing the traditional Somali garment, a white, one-shoulder dress wrapped in a red and brown shawl. Instead, women must wear a long dark skirt made of thick material and a tunic that covers from their head to below the waist. In addition, men and women must be segregated, all music is banned, and the wedding procession cannot comprise more than three vehicles.

The tribal elder said no one broke any of the stated rules, and that the attack was completely unwarranted.

Ahmed said local residents are aware of the strict rules al-Shabaab has imposed on citizens regarding gatherings and celebrations, and everyone has been careful to abide by them since militants took control of the area more than three years ago.

The guests recited traditional chants called "buraanbur" to celebrate the bride, groom and respective families. The chant did not include anything forbidden by al-Shabaab, he said.

"The Bo'o incident has marked the people who live in Hiran region and has left them astounded because al-Shabaab turned what was to be a day of celebration to a day of sorrow," Ahmed said. "It shows al-Shabaab has no compassion for those who live under their rule."

Tribal elders traditionally attempt to resolve altercations among citizens including violent events such as this one. However, Ahmed said it is useless to get involved in this case because al-Shabaab fighters do not respect elders' role and would not be receptive if they were to approach them.

"We cannot hold them accountable for their wrongdoings because we are afraid to cause more damage," he said.

This is not the first time al-Shabaab militants have targeted wedding parties. Most recently, a wedding party was attacked in December in Qurod village near El Bur, killing four people and injuring nine, according to Somalia's Hiiraan Online.

Al-Shabaab has not yet commented on the Bo'o wedding attack.

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