Mogadishu — Three clan elders in El Bur have been in al-Shabaab custody for over two weeks for not paying punitive damages on behalf of militants who unlawfully killed two youths in December 2012.
The victims, 21-year-old Qasim Ali and 25-year-old Mohamed Aadan, were killed when two al-Shabaab fighters opened fire on youths playing football in El Bur, residents told Sabahi.
Al-Shabaab leaders said the deaths were an accident since the perpetrators intended to scare the youths and disburse the crowd, not kill them, according to Abdullahi Farah, a 25-year-old El Bur resident. Based on al-Shabaab's interpretation that the two fighters were responsible as citizens and not soldiers, the militants ordered elders from the two fighters' clan to pay punitive damages to the victims' families in the form of 200 camels.
The clan refused to pay the damages because of the unjust nature of the order. But on January 12th, al-Shabaab arrested 17 clan elders, releasing 14 of them six days later after they agreed under duress that the three remaining elders would stay in al-Shabaab custody until the 200 camels were paid.
"This situation has had a significant impact [on the community]," Farah said. "We are saddened, but as civilians we cannot do anything. It is hard for the elders to collect the camels because some of the people who are supposed to pay are very poor."
Community not responsible for al-Shabaab mistakes
Abukar Osman, one of the elders who were released, said that during the negotiations the elders unsuccessfully pleaded with al-Shabaab leaders, telling them the community should not be held responsible as the culprits were not civilians but al-Shabaab soldiers.
"We told al-Shabaab to pay the damages themselves," Osman told Sabahi. "The killers are your soldiers, and we cannot afford to pay what you are demanding," he said they told the militants.
"They refused to listen to us. They even refused to pay part of the compensation and told us we must pay everything. We have no other option but to obey their orders and collect the camels," he told Sabahi.
"Even though they did not give us a deadline, we must act quickly because our [innocent] people have been jailed," said Osman, adding that the released elders were not harmed while in al-Shabaab custody.
Abdiaziz Aadan, a 32-year-old El Bur resident, said the arrest of the elders has renewed fears and worries among residents.
"This situation is truly difficult for us. Al-Shabaab is showing us its power," he said. "The people who are supposed to pay the camels are facing hardships as it is."
Aadan said the high camel payment adds serious pressure to local pastoralists who have been trying to overcome a difficult season with insufficient rains and pastures for their animals.
"Residents already did not have enough food to eat due to al-Shabaab's ban of aid organisations and now they are ordering them to give up the few animals they own that survived last year's drought to pay damages [on their behalf]," Aadan said.
A similar incident occurred in June 2012 when al-Shabaab ordered residents of Tiyeglow in the Bakool region to pay $100,000, according to Mayow Ibrahim, a 56-year-old clan elder there. In that case, al-Shabaab was not collecting damages, but simply ordered the residents to help fund its terrorist operations, Ibrahim told Sabahi.