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Two prominent radio journalists killed in Somalia

Sunday, August 12, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Two prominent Somali journalists were assassinated Saturday, one outside his office and the other as he returned from his fallen colleague's funeral, authorities said.

The victims were Ali Iman Sharmarke, owner of the Horn-Afrik Media Company, and Mahad Ahmed Elmi, who hosts a popular radio talk show for the same company. HornAfrik's broadcasts have criticized both the government and the Islamic militants who have been trying to topple the administration through a bloody insurgency.

There was no immediate indication of who had killed the men. Deputy police commissioner Abdullahi Hassan Barise said the men were targeted because of their jobs at the independent radio station.

"Those who don't want peace for Somalia are behind these attacks," he said.

The government has accused independent radio stations of airing programs "likely to cause unrest." On Friday, police raided Mogadishu-based Shabelle radio and detained eight journalists for several hours, said Aweis Yusuf Osman, editor of the station's English service. Other stations, including HornAfrik, also have been forced off the air for days at a time.

Elmi, 30, was shot as he headed to work early Saturday, according to witnesses. Sharmarke, 50, was killed by a remote-controlled land mine as he drove home from Elmi's burial, authorities said.

Two other journalists -- one working for Reuters, the other for Voice of America -- were in the car with Sharmarke and suffered light injuries, said Mohamed Ibrahim, a reporter in Mogadishu.

Just hours before the land mine explosion that killed Sharmarke, he lamented Elmi's death.

"The killing was meant to prevent a real voice that described the suffering in Mogadishu to other Somalis and to the world," Sharmarke said. "Elmi was a symbol of neutrality."

Elmi was married and had a son and a daughter.

"I would listen to him before I went out for the day because he would update Somalis on the situation in the city," said Mogadishu resident Abdulkadir Hassan. "He entertained me while I ate breakfast."

Sharmarke had two wives and three children, according to Ugas Ali Mohamed Ali, a respected Somali elder. Although he spent much of his younger years outside Somalia, Sharmarke came to Mogadishu in 1999 to establish HornAfrik, Ali said.

Mogadishu is increasingly caught in a guerrilla war, with frequent roadside bombs and mortar attacks. Thousands of civilians have been killed since December, and a fifth of Mogadishu's 2 million residents have fled to squalid camps.

Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, condemned Saturday's killings.

"These savage killings are an indicator of the perilous conditions facing journalists in Somalia, where political chaos and lawlessness threatens all independent journalism," he said.


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