Mogadishu — Al-Shabaab has once again flexed its control over the people of Barawe by confiscating all camera-equipped mobile phones, residents told Sabahi.
Using loudspeakers on March 10th, al-Shabaab militants announced the new directive, ordering all residents to bring their mobile phones to al-Shabaab's base at the Barawe municipal office, threatening harsh punishment for non-compliance.
"Men who were members of al-Shabaab unexpectedly came into my store and ordered me to show them the phone I was using," said Farhan Mohamed, 38, who owns a food store in Barawe market. "When I showed them my phone, which was a Nokia C3, they took it away. I can describe it as something akin to robbery."
"They told us through the loudspeakers that anyone who uses a phone with a camera and fails to turn it in will face severe punishment," he told Sabahi. "Most of the people have started taking their camera phones, whichever brand they are, to al-Shabaab's headquarters out of fear."
"The religion of Islam does not sanction what al-Shabaab is doing, which is to abuse people's lives and their wealth," Mohamed said.
Al-Shabaab 'extremely fearful' of spies:
This is not the first time al-Shabaab has imposed strict measures against media and telecommunications equipment in areas under its control.
Last November, following the attempted capture of senior al-Shabaab leader Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir (Ikrima) by US Navy SEALs in October, al-Shabaab banned the people of Barawe from watching television, saying it harms their Islamic principles, and ordered them to turn in their televisions and satellite dishes to al-Shabaab officials.
Also since the raid, al-Shabaab started intimidating people who use smartphones, saying the hi-tech mobile devices could be used for spying.
Barawe elder Warsame Ali, 49, said al-Shabaab was taking these steps due to the extreme pressure and fear they are experiencing after the Somali National Army and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops stepped up their military offensive.
"Al-Shabaab is extremely fearful," Ali told Sabahi. "When AMISOM troops recently started expelling them from many towns and they realised they are facing mounting challenges, they began to inflict more abuse on the residents of Barawe so that the people do not become aware with al-Shabaab's losses and [to ensure] that anyone who would spy against them will not be able to live there."
Ali said he had a camera on his mobile phone, but even though it was unable to take pictures, al-Shabaab seized it anyway.
"What is surprising is that my phone was forcefully taken away while I was telling them that the camera was not working and they did not even look at it," he said. "These men did not even have any knowledge of which phones have functional cameras and those that did not. Their minds are stuck on the orders they were given."
Ali called on the allied forces to come quickly to rescue the citizens of Barawe district.
"I am humbly asking the troops of AMISOM and our own Somali National Army to liberate this town just like they liberated the other towns where al-Shabaab was expelled," he said. "Our most cherished dream is to see Barawe liberated from al-Shabaab. We are abused people who are unable to free themselves from the injustice that is being inflicted upon them."
Price doubles for mobile phones without cameras:
Barawe resident Asha Mudey, a 38-year-old mother of six, told Sabahi that al-Shabaab members came to her house one afternoon and took phones valued at $900 from six relatives who live in her household.
"We became terrified when al-Shabaab members came into our house and took each person's phone," she said. "I was even forced to wake up my husband who was sleeping so that they could find out if his phone was a camera phone." "Only my mother, who had a phone that did not have a camera, was left with her phone," Mudey said.
"Though our living condition was not that good, al-Shabaab compounded that by confiscating our phones," she said, adding that they had to spend $360 to buy new phones without cameras. The price of mobile phones without cameras has gone up in Barawe since al-Shabaab's directive, according to Salim Abdi, 36, who owns a mobile phone store in the town.
"These days the mobile phones without cameras that we sell are expensive because demand has increased from the people who want to use them," he told Sabahi. "For example, we used to sell the Nokia 101, which does not have a camera, for $30 and now it is $60."
Abdi said he was complying with al-Shabaab's orders out of concern for his safety, not because of any economic gains. "We returned the camera phones to Mogadishu because no one will buy them here as everyone is afraid of al-Shabaab," he said.