MOGADISHU, Somalia – A court run by an extremist Islamic group sentenced four Somali men on Monday to each have a hand and a leg cut off for allegedly stealing mobile phones and guns. The ruling prompted an outcry from human rights activists.
The court that handed down the sentence in Somalia's capital is run by al-Shabab, one of the nation's most powerful insurgent groups. The U.S. considers al-Shabab a terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda, which al-Shabab denies. The group, which controls much of Somalia, is trying to drive out the government and install a strict form of Islam.
"We have convicted them of theft, so they deserve to have their arms and legs amputated," said Sheik Abdul Haq, the al-Shabab judge in the capital, Mogadishu.
Al-Shabab has carried out amputations and other punishments elsewhere in Somalia, but they are rare in the capital.
Amnesty International appealed to al-Shabab not to carry out the "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments."
"These sentences were ordered by a sham al-Shabab court with no due process or guarantees of fairness," said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International's Africa deputy director.
No date was set for the sentences to be carried out. Al-Sabab has been known to carry out stonings, executions and amputations in public outside Mogadishu.
The sentences came as the country's president declared a state of emergency Monday as his fragile, U.N.-backed government struggled to quash a deadly Islamic insurgency.
President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said the declaration means "our forces are on full alert." It was not clear what difference the declaration will make on the ground.
Somalia's government is under attack by militants who want to topple the administration and install a strict Islamic state. A surge in violence in recent weeks, which diplomats said is a major push by the insurgents to force the government out of its Mogadishu strongholds, has killed about 225 people.
Last week, the national security minister and Mogadishu's police chief were among those killed.
Somalia's defense minister was supposed to be in Paris to meet with French government ministers Monday, but returned to Somalia instead because of "the degradation of the situation on the ground," according to the French Foreign Ministry.
Somali lawmakers pleaded this weekend for immediate international military intervention from countries including Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti to help quash the insurgency. But there was no indication reinforcements would be forthcoming.
African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping said in a statement that the Somali government "has the right to seek support from AU member states and the larger international community."
But Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the neighboring country would not send troops, choosing instead to help Somalia "in other ways." He did not elaborate.
There was no immediate word on whether other countries would answer the call. There already is an AU force in Mogadishu, but its mandate is restricted to guarding government officials and installations.
Nearly 126,000 people have fled their homes since May 7, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The United Nations says an estimated 3.2 million Somalis — almost half the country's population — need food and other humanitarian aid.
Two years ago, Ethiopia deployed troops to support Somalia's fragile, Western-backed government, but they were widely unpopular and finally withdrawn in January after the election of a new president. Last month Ethiopia sent in troops to the border regions of Somalia.
Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti are members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional group that has led past peace talks on Somalia and last month imposed a sea and air blockade to stop supplies reaching the Islamic insurgents in Somalia. It is not clear whether the blockade is effective.
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when the overthrow of a dictatorship plunged the country into chaos.