MOGADISHU, Somalia — An Islamic group that controls much of southern Somalia executed two girls by firing squad, and hundreds of residents of a town were forced to view the spectacle.
Sheik Mohamed Ibrahim on Wednesday sentenced the girls to death in the town of Belet Weyne for spying for government soldiers fighting the Islamist group al-Shabab. The local al-Shabab administration appoints judges and the only needed qualifications are that the person must be a man who knows the Quran.
Al-Shabab is linked to Al Qaeda and has carried out several whippings, amputations and executions to enforce its own strict interpretation of Islam. This was the first public execution of girls in Belet Weyne, a western Somali town.
Abdiwali Aden, a witness, told The Associated Press by phone that al-Shabab militiamen had walked through Belet Weyne's streets, informing residents about the pending executions by loudspeaker and ordering everyone to attend.
Ayan Mohamed Jama, 18, and Huriyo Ibrahim, 15, were brought before hundreds of residents. Ten masked men opened fire Wednesday on the girls, who were blindfolded, soon after the sentencing. As the girls were shot, they shouted "There is no God but Allah," said a witness who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
A woman fainted after she saw the girls being shot, said Da'ud Ahmed, another witness.
An al-Shabab official, Sheik Yusuf Ali Ugas, said the girls had admitted to spying. But Sadia Osman, who witnessed the execution, said one of the girls said she was innocent. Ugas also warned residents against using their mobile phones or cameras to document the execution, saying violates of his rule risked amputation.
Human Rights Watch said in an April report that al-Shabab imposes "unrelenting repression and brutality."
Al-Shabab, which vows allegiance to Al Qaeda and whose members include foreign fighters, controls large parts of southern Somalia and much of the capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia has not had an effective central government for 19 years. The U.N.-backed government controls only a few blocks of Mogadishu, while its allies control much of central Somalia.